Photo courtesy of NTF WPS

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) on Wednesday (April 14) once again denounced the continued presence of the Chinese Coast Guard and other maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea, which the Chinese government claims as ordinary fishing vessels.

Despite efforts from the national government including diplomatic protests, some 240 Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) remained in WPS based on latest maritime patrol conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Photo courtesy of NTF WPS

According to the Western Command (WESCOM), the reported presence of the CMM are within the Pag-asa island in Kalayaan town and other areas under the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

A number of the vessels were spotted in Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, Chigua (McKennan) Reef, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Zamora (Subi) Reef, Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands, Likas (West York) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

The CMM vessels currently dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Islands, are about 60 meters in length.

Photo courtesy of NTF WPS

A minimum estimate that each vessel can catch one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the WPS which is also considered as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF).

Several vessels were also spotted collecting giant clam shells within the Pag-asa island but quickly left after Philippine Coast Guard vessels tried to approached them.

“This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” the NTF-WPS said.

During the patrol, authorities also spotted the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels – two Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, one Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and one Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef and CCG vessels were seen in the territorial sea of the Pag-asa Islands.

Additional monitoring by the AFP reported two PLAN, three CCG, and 10 CMM vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

The combined presence of the PLAN warships, CCG and CMM poses a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ, the task force said.

“All these warships of the PLAN contribute to the militarization of the area,” the statement added.

“The NTF-WPS views with serious alarm the recent reports that a civilian vessel carrying a local news crew conducting interviews of Filipino fishermen was followed and shadowed by a CCG vessel and an armed Houbei class missile warship as it travelled from the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal to the coast of Palawan. The incident is now under investigation. The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ,” statement said.

With the intense situation within the disputed area, the AFP has launched an intensified inter-agency maritime patrol in WPS to assert country’s sovereignity.

Western Command (WESCOM) commander and Area Task Force for West Philippine Sea (ATF-WPS) chairman Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has deployed BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409), while the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has sent two more ships in the area.

WESCOM has also deployed four Philippine Navy vessels, namely BRP Dagupan City (LS 551), BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS 36), BRP Magat Salamat (PS 20), and BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19) which will also providing support and assistance to PCG and BFAR.

He said that the sea assets are and shall be continuously deployed to different areas in WPS including the Julian Felipe Reef, Pag-asa Cay, Recto Bank, and other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), to conduct maritime and sovereignty patrols, and other law enforcement activities.

“These inter-agency efforts are very essential in the way we address the national concerns in the WPS. The ATF-West shall continue to do so to ensure that our government forces and agencies will be able to collaborate, complement and support each other in performing respective mandates in support to national policy and strategy,” Enriquez said.

The tension in disputed area has started anew after the government authorities spotted more than 200 Chinese Maritime Milita within the Julian Felipe Reef recently.

Julian Felipe Reef also known as Whitsin Reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef located at approximately 175 Nautical Miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.