PH ramps up monitoring of Chinese vessels
MANILA, Philippines — The military has been sending aircraft and ships to monitor the almost 200 Chinese vessels anchored at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said late Saturday.
He also said more ships would patrol the West Philippine Sea, as he repeated his demand that China withdraw its fleet there immediately.
“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines. There will be an increased presence of Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard ships to conduct sovereignty patrols and protect our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
He added: “I assure our people that we are addressing the situation. We stand by our position calling for the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef, which was communicated to the Chinese ambassador.”
“Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” Lorenzana said.
Julian Felipe, a boomerang-shaped coral reef, is approximately 325.5 kilometers west of Palawan province and is within the country’s 372 km exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Apart from the presence of Chinese ships there, Simularity, a research group in the United States, released a report on Wednesday that claimed continuing construction work at an artificial island built on top of Zamora Reef, also in the Philippines’ EEZ.
Lorenzana said the military and Coast Guard were already “monitoring the actual situation there.”
“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 said.
The presence of Chinese ships at Julian Felipe Reef has also prompted concern among nations such as Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila claimed that the ships, believed to be Chinese militia vessels, are fishing boats that took shelter there due to rough sea conditions.
President Rodrigo Duterte, according to his spokesperson Harry Roque, had reaffirmed to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian the 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea against China’s expansive claims.
—WITH REPORTS FROM REUTERS INQ
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