A China fishing vessel believed to be manned by militia personnel was among others sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, 2021. | PCOO photo via PNA

The Philippine government on Saturday vowed to remain steadfast in its duty to protect Philippine sovereignty and its sovereign rights in the country’s maritime domain amid reports on the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. 

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), in a statement, said the Philippines shall adhere to its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The government shall continue to peacefully and proactively pursue its initiatives on environmental protection, food security, and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea as part of its overall national security policy,” the NTF-WPS statement read.

The NTF-WPS expressed concern about the confirmed report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that around 220 Chinese Fishing Vessels (CFVs), believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7.

“The NTF-WPS notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” it said.

The 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.

It is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS), over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas.

The statement added that despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time. (PNA)

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