The military command in Palawan has raised concerns again over the resurgence of Chinese maritime militia vessels swarming within its West Philippine Sea domain, a development observed following recent aerial surveillance missions.
Commander Ariel Joseph Coloma, the spokesperson for the Western Command (Wescom), said Thursday that aerial patrols conducted on September 6 and 7 observed an increase in aggressive swarming activities by China. Specifically, there were 23 militia vessels spotted at Rozul (Iroquios) Reef, five at Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, and two at Baragatan (Nares) Bank.
He said Wescom’s thorough evaluation of the aerial patrols has pinpointed the three areas where there is a notable surge in Chinese swarming activities.
“The expanded presence of Chinese fishing vessels raises alarms regarding its potential impact on the Philippines’ maritime security, conservation of fisheries, territorial sovereignty, and the protection of the marine ecosystem. These actions have been a root cause of tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and have added to the instability in the area.,” he said.
Coloma clarified that while a greater number of militia vessels were observed at Iroquios Reef on September 7, the recorded Chinese militia vessels at Sabina Shoal, located within the exclusive economic zone of the country and serving as a navigation point for approaching Ayungin Shoal, indicates a persistent pattern of swarming.
Sabina and Iroquios are the areas where Chinese surveillance and tracking of Philippine civilian supply vessels occur frequently.
Coloma emphasized that the repeated swarming incidents in both areas highlight the continuous violation of the country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction along its western border.
“While Chinese swarming activity makes a comeback, the Philippines remains committed to staying alert and implementing essential measures to protect its crucial national interests and preserve regional stability,” he added.
He further stated that collaborative efforts involving defense forces, law enforcement agencies, and international partners are vital for tackling these challenges, defending the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and ensuring stability in the region.
Coloma mentioned that before this month’s surveillance, the latest instance of swarming activity documented by the Philippine Navy occurred on August 24, involving the sighting of 33 Chinese militia vessels in Iroquios Reef.
Past occurrences of swarming Iroquois Reef, Sabina Shoal, and Nares Bank have coincided with reports of extensive coral harvesting, intensifying worries about their detrimental effects on the environment.
Back in August, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, the commander of Wescom, stated that the water cannoning episode near Ayungin Shoal provided evidence confirming that the Chinese vessels frequently seen in the WPS are, in fact, militia vessels posing as fishing boats, and they have been following directives from China Coast Guard authorities.
Carlos said that as of August 9, there had been a notable surge in the number of foreign vessels intruding into the WPS, totaling approximately 400, with 80% of them being China militia vessels.