The number of Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels around Julian Felipe Reef has gone down to 28 from as high as 135 last Saturday, Western Command Chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said.
Carlos reported the decrease in the number of CMM vessels during a hearing conducted by the Special Committee on West Philippine Sea of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, December 6.
“Based on our latest patrol, as well as that of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), as of last count, there are only 28 and that is a drastic decrease from a high of 135 CMM vessels,” Carlos said.
Last Saturday, the PCG reported the alarming swarm of CMM vessels around Julian Felipe Reef.
Carlos also revealed that the CMM vessels’ incursions in the area started as early as November 5-6 with 35 vessels recorded that went up to 90 on November 13.
Responding to a query on their reaction to the monitored CMM vessels in the area, Carlos said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through Wescom, has constantly maintained its presence in the area together with PCG conducting regular maritime domain awareness patrols.
He added that Wescom and other law enforcement agencies in the area always adhere to rules based procedures in dealing with the CMM vessels in Philippine territories.
“We always follow the existing procedure to confront them when we monitor these CMM vessels, issuing radio challenges and we document their presence for basis of filing of diplomatic protests. When we monitored them last December 5, our ships are already there,” Carlos explained.
“We always make sure that our response is well calibrated, we continuously monitor the situation on the ground and their presence, and we also continue to increase our operational tempo,” he added.
PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela, on the other hand, explained that despite the limited resources that they have, they have been performing their task in WPS. He also said that the PCG along with the Philippine Navy vessels and aircrafts from Philippine Air Force, conducts deployment of vessels on a rotational basis
“As Admiral Carlos mentioned, the AFP together with the PCG, when we learned the that the CMM started swarming in JFR, we have constantly sent our limited assets that’s why we were able to document their increasing presence” he said.
“With the very limited assets that we have, just to emphasize, we only have three vessels in Palawan. and if you could just imagine how vast PWS is, we cannot expect that the PCG will be there 24/7 in Julian Felipe Reef to watch over the swarming of the CMM,” he added.
The PCG spokesperson further stated that they have been successful with the campaign that they have been staging in WPS, particularly with the awareness and information dissemination.
“With the transparency initiatives that we have launched since February where we report the swarming of the CMM, we can notice how they responded,” he said.
Department of National Defense Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga, meanwhile, stated that the Philippine government indeed cannot match the resources of China in terms of assets being deployed in the area.
He said the AFP has been trying to deviate from their usual mode of conducting rotation and reprovision of troops deployed in the area, particularly aboard the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal where China Coast Guard along with CMM vessels have been harassing resupply missions.
“So what we are really trying to is present a different menu of response to the Chinese in doing our RORE so that it will complicate matters for the Chinese and that will give us a greater chance of success in our RORE,” Madriaga said.
“We are just trying to mix and match all the resources so that it will not always be Umaiza Mae 1 and 2, and if you noticed during the last RORE, one of the reasons for its success is that we used a much faster vessel and they were not able to box it in. So what we are doing is to present a more complex response during our RORE missions to have a greater probability of success,” he added.