Nearly 300 Chinese vessels still scattered in West Philippine Sea, says task force

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2021 04:01 PM | Updated as of May 12 2021 10:49 PM

NTF-WPS also emphasizes Julian Felipe Reef is within PH EEZ

Nearly 300 Chinese vessels still scattered in West Philippine Sea, says task force 1
Chinese vessels are seen on March 22, 2021 in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the "incursion" violates the Philippines' maritime rights as the vessels are encroaching into Manila's sovereign territory. Courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines


MANILA (UPDATED) - Almost 300 Chinese maritime militia vessels remain scattered as of Sunday in different areas in Kalayaan, Palawan, both within and outside the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, according to the country's task force for the said waters on Wednesday.

Patrols conducted by maritime authorities on May 9 showed that 287 Chinese vessels were still in Philippine waters, of which, "bigger groupings" were spotted in Chinese-built artificial islands while some were observed near islands occupied by Manila.

Aside from the Chinese militia vessels, two Houbei-class missile warships were found inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, and two Vietnamese logistics/supply ships and one VN Coast Guard vessel were at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef.

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Video courtesy of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. 

At the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), which Chinese vessels swarmed since March, 34 of such ships were found present.

"We reiterate that the Philippines shall continue to defend its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, and shall not yield an inch of our territory," the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.

It added that the Julian Felipe Reef, located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan, is "within our 200NM (Exclusive Economic Zone)" and "is part of Philippine territory."

On Tuesday, Harry Roque, spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, claimed that the reef is far-flung and outside of the country's EEZ, and had "never" been in Philippine possession.

A maritime law expert in the country disputed Roque's statement and warned it may be used to the disadvantage of the Philippines, while the Department of Foreign Affairs reiterated its earlier position that Julian Felipe Reef is within the Philippines' EEZ.

The Philippines has repeatedly protested against the Chinese incursions and demanded the immediate withdrawal of their ships.

China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea have no legal basis, according to a UN-backed arbitration court in The Hague in 2016.

In other features at the Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs or Union Banks, a group of features under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Kalayaan which includes the Julian Felipe Reef, 77 Chinese maritime militia vessels were also found at McKennan or Chigua Reef, the task force said.

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Video courtesy of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. 

At the Panganiban or Mischief Reef, joining the Chinese warships are two 2 Chinese maritime militia vessels.

The same patrol also found 1 Chinese vessel at Lawak or Nanshan Island, 11 at Recto or Reed Bank, and one at Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal.

The following sightings were reported as well on May 9:

  • Pag-asa Island (positioned off the main island) - 14 Chinese maritime militia and 1 Chinese Coast Guard vessels
  • Zamora (Subi) Reef - 16 Chinese maritime militia vessels

On May 6, the following areas were also swarmed with foreign vessels:

  • Pag-asa Cays - 24 Chinese maritime militia vessels and one anchored Chinese Coast Guard vessel, showing no visible activity
  • Panata Island - 2 Chinese maritime militia vessels
  • Kota (Loaita) island - 1 Vietnamese fishing vessel
  • Burgos (Gaven) Reef North - 64 Chinese maritime militia
  • Paredes (Discovery Great) Reef - 2 Vietnam Fisheries Surveillance Ships
  • Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef - 3 People's Liberation Army Navy warships, 55 Chinese maritime militia vessels, and 1 Chinese Rescue Service Ship

From May 3 to 10, the NTF-WPS also monitored an average of 4 Chinese Coast Guard vessels sailing at Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal, located west of Zambales province in Luzon.

Another was also observed each at both Pag-asa Island and Ayungin Shoal during the same period.

Despite China's illegal unilateral "fishing ban" of its vessels in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, the task force said 2 Chinese ships were harvesting shells inside the lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal.

In response to the incursions, the task force said ships from Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources were deployed.

These are augmented by the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group by using high speed tactical watercraft, police gun boats and police fast boats

The NTF-WPS said the Philippines drove away a number of Chinese maritime militia vessels illegally occupying Sabina Shoal since late April.

"The Philippine government continues to strengthen its presence in the WPS with a view towards law enforcement, deterrence of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and protection of the welfare and safety of our fisherfolk," the task force said.

Filipino fishermen "are encouraged to sail and fish" in the West Philippine Sea, it added.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from the landmark arbitral award on the South China Sea, the Philippines anchors its claim over the Kalayaan Island Group on Presidential Decree 1596 issued in 1978 by the President Ferdinand Marcos.

Upon assuming power in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte forged friendlier relations with China, even setting aside the arbitral award in favor of economic aid and investments.

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