The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) on Wednesday said a maritime patrol on May 9 spotted 287 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels scattered over the various features of the municipality of Kalayaan, both within and outside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Bigger groupings of CMMs were sighted at the artificial islands built by China while some were observed near islands occupied by the Philippines, a statement signed by NTF WPS chairman and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
The maritime patrol sighted two CMM vessels and two Houbei-class missile warships inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, one CMM off Lawak (Nanshan) Island, 11 CMM vessels located about 29 nautical miles southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank; and another CMM vessel off Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
A Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel was seen at the shoal during an earlier patrol last May 7.
“As for the features forming part of the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, the 9 May 2021 maritime patrol reported the presence of 34 CMMs at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef (JFR), two Vietnamese (VN) logistics/supply ships, and one VN Coast Guard vessel at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef and 77 CMMs in Chigua Reef,” the NTF WPS said.
The body also emphasized that Julian Felipe Reef is a low tide elevation (LTE) located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan, and within the country’s 200-nautical mile EEZ.
“It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12 NM (nautical mile) territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan,” it added.
From May 3 to 10, the Area Task Force–North reported an average of four CCG vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (BdM) (Scarborough Shoal), and an average of one CCG each for both the Pag-asa Islands and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
“Despite China’s illegal unilateral ‘fishing ban’ covering its fishing vessels in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, from 1 May to August 16, 2021, two CMMs were nonetheless observed harvesting shells inside the lagoon of the BdM,” NTF WPS said.
It also reported that an average of 10 Filipino fishing boats were seen fishing inside the BdM lagoon from May 7 to 9.
“The ATF-West 9 May 2021 maritime patrol reported 14 CMM vessels and one CCG vessel positioned off the main Pag-asa Island, and 16 CMMs at Zamora (Subi) Reef. An earlier 6 May 2021 patrol sighted 24 CMMs, complemented by one CCG anchored at the Pag-asa Cays showing no visible activity,” the task force said.
It added that the same patrol observed two CMMs at Panata Island; one Vietnamese fishing vessel off Kota (Loaita) Island; 64 CMM in Burgos (Gaven) Reef North; two Vietnamese fisheries surveillance ships off Paredes (Discovery Great) Reef; and one Chinese rescue service ship, three People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) warships and 55 CMM vessels at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef.
“In line with Presidential directives, the NTF WPS is undertaking continuous law enforcement function and maritime exercises in the WPS. The PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) and the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) are coordinating their efforts under the former’s Task Force Pagsasanay, and deployed PCG BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4003), BFAR MCS 3001 and 3008 at the Municipality of Kalayaan, while PCG BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and BFAR MCS 3005 are covering the area of BdM,” the body said.
It added that PCG and BFAR vessels are being complemented by the Philippine National Police–Maritime Group (PNP-MG) through the assignment of four high-speed tactical watercraft, three police gunboats, and police fast boats to patrol the municipal waters and portions of the country’s EEZ in the WPS.
Meanwhile, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano contested accusations that President Rodrigo Duterte was surrendering the West Philippine Sea to China, saying he was simply employing a “non-aggressive style of negotiation.”
Cayetano, who served as Duterte’s Foreign Affairs secretary from 2017 to 2018, said it was this non-confrontational attitude that prevented the Philippines from losing more territory.
“If we were fighting for a car, the previous administration’s style of engaging in a shouting match ended up with China getting the car. Under President Duterte, we’ve been talking and talking but haven’t lost anything,” Cayetano said.
“So in a sense, the previous administration acted tough because they wanted a shouting match. The problem was it was a wrong strategy because we lost,” he added.
In 2012, the Philippines lost the Panatag Shoal, also called Scarborough Shoal in the WPS, to Beijing after a standoff that ensued after Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep.Edcel Lagman reminded the President that sovereignty was a serious matter and should not be turned into a campaign joke.
“Admitting a hyperbolic joke does not mitigate Duterte’s reneging on his sworn constitutional duty to uphold the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Lagman said.
“Of course no one believed that the President would physically jet ski to plant the Philippine flag in the Spratlys Islands, but the electorate clearly understood that candidate Duterte vowed and committed to protect and enforce Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Lagman said the eventual international arbitral decision on July 12, 2016, less than two weeks after President Duterte’s assumption of the presidency, has actualized the symbolism of Duterte’s “joke.”
“However, Duterte failed and refused to pursue and enforce the adjudication confirming Philippine ownership of the vital resources and vast territories in the West Philippine Sea against China’s spurious claims and aggression,” he said.
“This is another failed campaign promise like eradicating the drug menace, subduing corruption, solving the traffic gridlock, and mitigating mass poverty,” Lagman added.
Also on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said its position on the Julian Felipe Reef issue remains unchanged,” after presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it was not in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Last month, the DFA, summoned Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian and informed him that the Julian Felipe Reef “lies within the EEZ of the Republic of the Philippines” and that the continuing presence of Chinese vessels in the area is “a source of regional tension.”
In a separate tweet on Tuesday night, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said when it comes to foreign affairs, the DFA always has the last word and “no one else” – a clear reference to Roque.
“This is my last warning. When it comes to foreign affairs the Department of Foreign Affairs has the exclusive remit,” Locsin said.
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