MANILA – Around 183 vessels believed to be Chinese maritime militia (CMM) were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol on Monday in Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea which is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“From our MARPAT (maritime patrol) yesterday, we sighted around 183 vessels believed to be CMM,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, in a message to reporters Monday night.
The information came from the AFP’s Western Command, based in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, after it deployed a fixed-wing aircraft to fly over the area around 8:40 a.m. on Monday and completed its patrol at around 11:30 a.m.
Sobejana added that the AFP and the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) are assessing the best course of action for this incursion.
“(Ang) mandate namin yung to secure our territory so we really oppose any act of incursion sa ating territorial waters, including our exclusive economic zone, but on the other hand, yung NTF WPS naman takes into consideration other means, so jointly, i-assess namin and we will decide what is the best course of action na pwedeng gawin dun sa area (The AFP’s mandate is to secure the country’s territories so we really oppose any act of incursion in our territorial waters, including our exclusive economic zone, but on the other, NTF WPS takes into consideration other means, so we are jointly assessing the situation and we will decide what is the best course of action for the area),” Sobejana added.
For now, he said the AFP’s maritime patrols will continue to determine if the Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea are increasing or decreasing.
Earlier, the NTF WPS expressed concern about a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
“The NTF WPS notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” the NTF WPS said.
The 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. (PNA)