MANILA — Around 42 Chinese maritime militia vessels lingered near Pag-asa Island on Monday after first being spotted in the area this weekend, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.
The vessels, first seen in the area on Saturday morning, were estimated at a distance of 4.5 to 8 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island, the coast guard said.
"As of this time, itong mga vessels na ito ay nandoon pa rin sa Pag-asa vicinity so hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin umaalis," Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea said.
"[Sa] videos, makikita mo 'yung Chinese maritime militia vessels na despite the strong current and big waves, naka-angkla lang sila at hindi sila umaalis. So 'yan lang ang ginagawa nila nitong mga nakaraang araw," he added.
(These vessels are still there in the vicinity of Pag-asa, they haven't left. In the videos, you can seen the Chinese maritime militia vessels anchored there despite the strong current and big waves. That's all they're doing these past days.)
Based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, the observed location of the Chinese vessels is within Pag-asa Island's 12-nautical mile territorial sea.
The PCG said that the vessels' presence in the area was a form of harassment.
"For PCG, ang karagatan sa Pag-asa Island ay mayroon tayong territorial sea at mayroon tayong sovereignty over it. With the presence nitong Chinese vessels—the 42 Chinese maritime militia, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) Navy and China Coast Guard 5203—is a form of harassment sa ating sovereignty," Tarriela said.
"Wala naman sila ginagawa dyan, all of these maritime militia are just anchored in different location sa Pag-asa island."
(For PCG, we have sovereignty over the territorial sea around Pag-asa Island. The presence of these Chinese vessels...is a form of harassment of our sovereignty. They are doing nothing there.)
PCG said it could not disclose whether it was monitoring other Chinese government ships at the West Philippine Sea apart from the earlier reported Chinese vessels.
"I cannot confirm nor deny that there are Chinese maritime militia or Chinese government ships that are patrolling in the different locations sa West Philippine Sea. However, ang number that we could assure the public is the 42 maritime militia sa Pag-asa Island and China Coast Guard and PLA Navy vessels. Sa other areas, wala pa kaming exact number,” Tarriela said.
(In other areas, we don't have an exact number.)
The Coast Guard has directed its personnel at the West Philippine Sea to document all Chinese government vessels if any harassment ensues.
“Sinasabi po namin lagi na they have to document and report their activities kung sakaling may harassment or may instances na ang ating Filipino fishermen ay masasabing na-harass sila sa particular location. They have to document it and report it to the national headquarters. Itong gathering of info ay pinapadala sa national task force," Tarriela said.
"It is our duty to monitor their presence and to document it and at the same time we are forwarding those reports to DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) kung saan itong info na ito ay maisasama sa ating diplomatic protest,” he continued.
(We always tell them that they have to document and report their activities, if ever there is any harassment or instance that our fishermen say they were harassed in a particular location... This is sent to the national task force... These are included in our diplomatic protests.)
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of the sea.
In February, the Philippines accused a Chinese security vessel of using a military-grade laser against a Philippine patrol boat.
Beijing has defended its actions, saying the Philippine boat "intruded" into China's sovereign waters without permission.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently insisted that the Philippines "will not lose one inch" of territory following the latest maritime incident between the 2 countries.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse