Politicians and Church representatives were among 66 Vietnamese professionals who yesterday wrote a message of support to the Philippines embassy in Hanoi backing Manila’s claim to Scarborough Shoal, a controversial group of islands also claimed by China. Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of the northern city of Vinh was part of the group that also included lawyers, journalists and intellectuals which backed the Philippines proposal to submit the dispute over the atoll to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. “We fully support the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the Panatag Shoal [Scarborough Shoal] area and the Philippines’ actions to defend her sovereign rights,” they said in the message which was delivered yesterday to Ambassador Jerril Galban Santos. The signatories called on all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to “take concrete actions to show solidarity with the Philippines” following a territorial standoff between Manila and Beijing that started in April. Chinese fishing vessels were spotted in the area on April 8 but Chinese surveillance ships prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting the Chinese crew, one of many Manila has accused of illegal fishing. The Philippines has in the past regularly arrested Chinese fishermen operating in the area. “We strongly oppose China’s illegal actions and threats of force in the Panatag Shoal dispute,” the letter said. One signatory, Professor Nguyen Hue Chi, was quoted as saying on the BBC's Vietnamese service that the signatories “wanted to speak out on what government officials do not dare.” Last year, the Vietnamese authorities detained people marching in protests directed at China as regional tensions have escalated over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea, including Scarborough. Both the Philippines and China, which refers to the shoal as Huangyan Island, have made historical claims on Scarborough dating back centuries.