MANILA - An ocean conservation group urged the Philippine government to ensure the protection of maritime resources in the West Philippine Sea amid the reported presence of more than 200 Chinese vessels near the Julian Felipe Reef.
In a statement, Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president at Oceana Philippines, urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, to protect the area and its maritime resources from outsiders.
"The Constitution makes the State the duty-bearer in protecting our marine wealth. The government, specifically our law enforcement agencies, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources have the duty to protect our ocean, the important marine habitats and ecosystem to ensure we are able to sustainably manage our fisheries and marine resources and ensure that livelihoods of our fisherfolks are not put at risk. There is a big penalty for illegal fishers including poachers in our waters and the question is: are we implementing our law, without fear or favor?" she said.
The Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, over which the country owns the exclusive rights to use resources, including fish, oil and natural gas.
The West Philippine Sea covers the country's EEZ in the disputed South China Sea, where China lays expansive claims.
Over the weekend, the Philippine Coast Guard released a report revealing that 220 Chinese maritime militia vessels were sighted moored in the West Philippine Sea.
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.
The Philippine military on Thursday said its chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana has ordered the deployment of more Navy ships to the West Philippine Sea to beef up the country's maritime sovereignty patrols in the area, but not in the reef where Chinese militia ships were seen to avoid confrontation.