The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has reported the sighting of a Chinese naval warship inside Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) grey ship was reportedly sighted by its personnel stationed on Pag-asa on Saturday while it prowled near the island, along with China Coast Guard vessel 5203 and 42 maritime militia boats that have congregated around two cays within Kalayaan town’s territorial sea.

When the PCG chased a Chinese grey ship away from Marie Louise Bank in 2021, it was the last time a Chinese ship of the type was observed in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). It left without answering when BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) sent it a radio challenge.

It is seen as taking an aggressive attitude when a grey ship cruises around in the waters that are part of the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines in the WPS.

Chinese maritime militia vessels (CMMVs) spotted on Cay 3 near Pag-asa Island. | Photo from Philippine Coast Guard

The PCG said the warship and the CCG vessel were lurking within the surrounding waters of Pag-asa, with a distance of 8 and 4 nautical miles, respectively. This island is the administrative center of Kalayaan, and its sole densely inhabited land feature, which is home to around 400 civilians, including 70 children.

Fourteen of the 42 Chinese maritime militia vessels observed were anchored on Pag-asa’s Cay 3, four nautical miles west of the island, while the remaining 28 were seen on Cay 4.

These cays on the surface of coral reefs are among the most important fishing grounds for Filipino fishermen, contributing to food security and coastal communities’ means of livelihood.

Despite the PCG’s assurances that they can keep them safe, fishermen are reluctant to venture into them because of harassment. The most recent incident took place in January when CCG 5204 chased away the fishing boat Ken-Ken near Ayungin Shoal.

During a routine maritime domain awareness  flight mission on February 21, the PCG also observed Chinese militia boats swarming in the WPS, with four vessels anchored near Ayungin Shoal. The CCG 5304 was also in the vicinity approximately one nautical mile away.

The PCG and CCG vessels both issued challenges to each other over Sabina Shoal in the disputed waters.

Based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, any unauthorized presence near Pag-asa Island is inconsistent with the right of innocent passage and a clear breach of the Philippines’ territorial integrity.

PCG commandant Adm. Artemio Abu said that in compliance with the clear directive of President Bongbong Marcos Jr., they will continue patrolling the WPS.

“Our gallant men and women of the Philippine Coast Guard will continuously patrol our waters full of courage and determination,” he said.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.