MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines is lodging a diplomatic protest against China over reports that more than 200 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were sighted moored in the West Philippine Sea, the country's foreign minister said on Sunday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he has already talked to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon about the issue, and had "fired off" a diplomatic protest Sunday night.
"I got the coordinates, so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, “Fire at will.” Shell should be flying at first light. I don’t usually announce maneuvers but it seems everybody is baring his chest," he said in another post on Twitter.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday said it has dispatched troops to validate the reported sighting of the Chinese vessels.
In a statement, AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the AFP has received the report of the Philippine Coast Guard about the Chinese ships.
The AFP Western Command has also dispatched Air Force and Navy assets to "conduct air and maritime sovereignty patrols to further validate the report."
"Appropriate reports were made and forwarded to other agencies of government through the General Headquarters of such monitored number of CMM. These reports are made bases of filing appropriate actions not limited to filing diplomatic protests," Arevalo said.
"The AFP will not renege from our commitment to protect and defend our maritime interest within the bounds of the law," he added.
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed "grave concern" on the presence of said Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
"This is a clear provocative action of militarizing the area. These are territories well within Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS) where Filipinos have the sole right to resources under international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling," he said.
He also called on the Chinese to stop the incursion and "immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory."
"We are committed to uphold our sovereign rights over the WPS," Lorenzana added.
Lorenzana said the Department of National Defense (DND) is coordinating with the PCG, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs for the appropriate action to be taken "in the context of protecting the welfare of our Filipino fishermen, our maritime resources, and maintaining peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea."
More than 200 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were sighted moored in the West Philippine Sea, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) report showed.
The report, which was received by the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), showed that the PCG counted around 220 CMM vessels massed at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, 2021.
Julian Felipe 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.
"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," the national task force said in a statement.
- with a report from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News
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