Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Admiral Rene Medina reiterated that Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are not under threat despite the reported presence of an estimated 600 Chinese vessels surrounding Pag-asa Island, Kalayaan municipality since December last year.
Medina laid emphasis on this on Friday during the celebration of the Command of its 43rd Founding Anniversary with AFP deputy chief of staff Guadencio Collado Jr.
“So walang [threat]. Wala po. We also have constant coordination with the higher headquarters, particularly with the Naval Task Force in the West Philippine Sea chaired by the national security adviser. We also have a weekly report and update regarding the Chinese fishing vessels and other foreign vessels,” Medina told reporters.
He said based on reports submitted by the Naval Forces West (NAVFORWEST), Chinese and Vietnamese vessels surround Pag-asa Island.
However, he said the majority of these vessels have Chinese markings.
“Marami, may Chinese, Vietnamese vessels [around the Pag-asa] then Filipino fishing vessels. But karamihan ay Chinese pa rin, they are there,” he said.
In February, Kalayaan town mayor Roberto del Mundo said the daily presence of over 50 Chinese boats in the waters between Pag-asa Island and Subi Reef in the WPS has scared them and other Filipino fishermen away from the area.
Del Mundo said since 2018, their daily sightings never go down to less than 50 and they cannot identify if the boats are merely fishing or filled with Chinese undercover agents spying on Filipino constructions on Pag-asa.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) on February 6 in its feature article “Under Pressure: Philippine Construction Provokes Paramilitary Response”, said the country has started the construction of a new beaching ramp on this island.
It said the ramp which was supposed to have been completed in 2018, was the reason why Beijing sent in “a large fleet of ships from Subi Reef,” which is merely 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa.
Medina said 56 percent of the ramp has already been completed and its completion is expected in July.
Rehabilitation of the runway will follow, he added.
“Its 56 percent done, ang ginagawa namin ngayon ay dinadala na namin lahat ng materials habang maganda ang panahon para kapag sumama ang panahon tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang construction. After the construction of the ramp, we can proceed with the rehabilitation of the runway on Pag-asa,” he added.