MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said the number of Chinese vessels spotted off Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) decreased based on its latest air patrol on Tuesday.
“There was a reduction in the number of vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef which is part of the Pagkakaisa Reef. In the last aerial sovereignty patrol on 30 March 2021, 44 Chinese vessels were spotted there. But we cannot readily say if the 92 vessels sighted in Chigua Reef and 84 in Gaven Reef are part of the original 183 first reported by the AFP,” AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.
The Julian Felipe 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.
He added that the overflights will continue despite the radio challenge made against the patrolling Philippine aircraft by Chinese forces in the area.
“It’s not the first time. And those challenges have been customary. Hence, our reply is likewise customary — that we are conducting routine maritime patrol over our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” Arevalo said.
He added that it is a constitutional mandate of the AFP to protect and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial rights.
“And we will not renege from our commitment to dutifully perform that mandate in coordination with other agencies like the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and other relevant agencies comprising the NTF (National Task Force) West Philippine Sea,” he added.
He also said the AFP will conduct air and naval patrols aside from other relevant measures to ensure maritime situational awareness.
Earlier, the NTF WPS expressed concern about a 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. (PNA)