Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured the public that the government is ready to defend the sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the country.
“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines. There will be an increased presence of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships to conduct sovereignty patrols and protect our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a statement late Saturday night.
Lorenzana also reiterated the country’s call for the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef (Union Reefs) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“A Philippine Navy ship and a Philippine Coast Guard are currently in the area monitoring the actual situation there. The PAF (Philippine Air Force) deploys an element of AS-211 jet aircraft every day with the same mission. Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS and KIG (Kalayaan Island Group),” he added.
He also said the DND is coordinating with other government agencies like the PCG and the Bureau of Aquatic and Fisheries Resources to coordinate its efforts in the WPS and the Kalayaan Island Group (municipality of Pag-asa).
“By securing the West Philippine Sea and its islands in the Kalayaan area, the Philippines reinforces its commitment to keeping the freedom of navigation and maintaining regional peace and stability,” he added.
Last Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian has paid a “social call” on President Rodrigo Duterte and assured that the Philippines need not worry over the presence of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe reef that is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
During his meeting with Huang, Duterte raised concern over the reported sighting of Chinese ships, Roque said.
Roque added that Duterte had made it clear that he would protect the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its maritime domain and uphold the country’s historic win over the contested WPS.
“Naging malinaw ang Presidente na siya ay Presidente at puprotektahan ang teritoryo ng Pilipinas (The President has taken a firm stance that he is the President and he will protect the Philippine territory),” Roque said.
Huang, Roque said, echoed China’s stance that the spotted Chinese boats off the Julian Felipe Reef in the WPS were merely taking shelter due to rough sea conditions.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on March 21 lodged a note verbale to protest the “unauthorized and lingering” presence of Chinese ships in and around Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef as early as March 7.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed on March 22 that around 183 Chinese vessels were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol in the area.
Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’ petition against China’s supposedly historic rights over almost the entire disputed South China Sea.
China, however, has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling. (PNA)