MANILA — The Philippines has sent more of its maritime assets to the West Philippine Sea to boost and sustain sovereignty patrols amid tensions in the area, a government task force said on Wednesday.
The West Philippine Sea is the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed, resource-rich South China Sea, roughly 90 percent of which is being claimed by China.
Several Chinese ships have been spotted in the area and remained despite Philippine demands for them to leave.
In a statement, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the deployment of additional vessels and aircraft in the area aims to intensify operations against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and to "increase safety of life at sea operations."
The said assets, according to the statement, would be under the control of the Area Task Forces in the West Philippine Sea and Northern Philippines.
The following were deployed by the government to boost maritime law enforcement and patrols, according to the task force:
- 4 Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels
- 1 PCG aircraft
- 5 Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels
- Philippine National Police - Maritime Group (PNP-MG) high speed tactical watercraft and rubber boats
"The foregoing whole-of-nation approach to protect our national interest in the WPS manifests the firm rejection of the Philippine
Government of any attempt to undermine the 2016 Arbitral Award," the statement read.
NTF-WPS also pointed out that they are "exhausting all means" to protect the country's territory and EEZ.
Aside from these, the government is also ramping up development efforts with an P8.8-billion program for the "environmental protection, security, safety and sustainable development" in Kalayaan.
This is in line with the plan of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), according to NTF-WPS.
Fishery Management Areas have also been established there to conserve and manage fish resources in Philippine waters.
This will be coordinated by local government units near the area, BFAR, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
"As mandated, the establishment of Fishery Management Areas, and the DENR has further proposed the declaration of a marine protected landscape and seascape covering the Pag-asa Islands and eastern parts of the Kalayaan Island Group," the task force explained, referring to the islands within the Philippines' EEZ.
The move came after the task force spotted at least 240 Chinese ships located in different parts of the West Philippine Sea last week, denouncing their presence in the country's territory.
This prompted Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to file a fresh diplomatic protest against Beijing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs also confirmed it is still filing daily diplomatic protests over China’s continued presence at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), where at least 9 of their ships remained.
Analysts and several countries earlier warned China of its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, as it could threaten regional stability.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have voiced their concerns on the matter.
President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued friendlier relations with China upon assuming power in 2016, shelving the maritime disputes in favor of economic aid and investments.