Chinese militia vessels seen in Julian Felipe Reef. |File photo

The Western Command (WESCOM) said it had already deployed at least four Philippine Navy (PN) vessels to conduct patrols around Julian Felipe reef in the West Philippine Sea where hundreds of Chinese vessels have recently congregated triggering fresh tensions between Manila and Beijing.

A statement issued by the Command identified the vessels involved as  BRP Dagupan City (LS 551), BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS 36), BRP Magat Salamat (PS 20), and BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19). It’s mission, according to the statement, also includes providing support to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

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

Enriquez said the naval assets shall be continuously deployed to in the WPS to conduct maritime and sovereignty patrols, and other law enforcement activities. Their area of patrol includes the Julian Felipe Reef, Pag-asa Cay, Recto Bank, and other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“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.

Tension in disputed area rose after over 200 Chinese maritime militia congregated near the Julian Felipe Reef recently.

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

The latest incident in the area involved the alleged harassment by a Chinese missile boat of a Filipino fishing boat carrying an ABS-CBN television crew. The Wescom had vowed to investigate the incident.

The Command did not explain its rules of engagement that will guide the action of Philippine naval vessels if they come into contact with the Chinese vessels in the area.