MANILA— The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) continues to conduct patrols in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, with spotted Chinese vessels leaving the area when challenged, an official said.
This was PCG Commandant Vice Admiral Leopoldo Laroya's response when asked about the current situation in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef).
Hundreds of Chinese vessels gathered at the said reef in late March, which were supposedly "fishing boats" sheltering from poor weather, China’s foreign ministry said.
Philippine authorities had described their presence as an incursion.
A UN-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 junked China's claim that it lays historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its so-called "nine-dash line.”
“At present we have been maintaining a continuous patrol of the West Philippine Sea. As far as Chinese fishing vessels are concerned, we have been in contact with some of them and after due warning given to them, they leave the area," Laroya told reporters in a virtual presser marking the Maritime Archipelagic Nation Awareness month.
The official said he has no specific details on the number and type of Chinese ships currently in the area and deferred the matter to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
He also vowed that the Philippine Coast Guard would continue to keep Philippine waters safe and protect the marine environment.
"Mayroong pakaunti-unti, nilalapitan ng Coast Guard, we always maintain a constant patrol in the area. And when challenged, they sometimes challenge our challenge but in the end they leave. So at the moment, we are having a good cooperation with them," he added.
(There were some that the Coast Guard approached.)
Meanwhile, Environment Undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said her agency has no estimate yet on the possible presence of methane gas in the Philippine Sea.
Teh added that the DENR is still finalizing plans to conduct an exploration to determine the extent of resources in the area.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, she noted, is still finalizing the blueprint for the project.
"We are still finalizing our plans on how to conduct the exploration to determine the extent of resources relative to mining, in fact even the potential for energy resources," according to her.
"I cannot still answer whether there’s a plan to partner with other countries. But right now, what we’re doing is in our proposed budget for 2022, we are laying some foundations so we can acquire the necessary equipment and technology to be able to prepare ourselves for that exploration."
Malacañang said the Philippine Coast Guard last June 30 also sent away Vietnamese and Chinese ships from the area. Two months ago, it shooed 7 alleged Chinese maritime militia ships near Puerto Princesa, Palawan, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to press China to follow The Hague's ruling invalidating its expansive claims, as he pursued investments and loans from the economic superpower.
In May, Duterte called the arbitral award a scrap of "paper" that belongs to the wastebasket. But that same month, he said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from the waterway.
Analysts and several countries earlier warned China of its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, as it could threaten regional stability.
— Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News