MANILA – The Philippines on Wednesday has reiterated its call for China to withdraw its militia ships spotted massing in the country’s maritime territory off the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) issued this call as the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) have continued with their “unlawful swarming presence” and have appeared off the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) instead of complying with the country’s demand that they withdraw their ships off Julian Felipe Reef.
“NTF WPS stands by its observation that these so-called ‘fishing’ vessels are maritime militia. Their build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea,” it added.
NTF WPS added that it is possible that Chinese ships might be doing something illegal at night and that their continued presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment due to marine pollution and the destruction of coral reefs.
“Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone),” it added.
It said it continues to assert Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the KIG and WPS and expressed its concern over the illegal Chinese maritime presence.
“After our three rounds of routine aerial and maritime sovereignty patrol missions complemented by the filing of a diplomatic protest by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the number CMM recorded at 220 on 7 March 2021, remained high at 183 on 22 March 2021, and 199 on 27 March 2021,” NTF WPS said.
Also on March 29, 44 CMM vessels remained moored, anchored, and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef.
“In addition, 115 CMM vessels are now monitored in Chigua (Kennan) Reef, 45 vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands and the other 50 vessels are dispersed in Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery), and Zamora (Subi) Reefs, all within the Kalayaan Island Group. Four People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels are also at Panganiban Reef, which forms part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the main Philippine archipelago,” it added.
Amid the worrying developments, NTF WPS said the Philippines appreciates the statements of support from its international partners who share common adherence to rules-based order consistent with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Award.
“Neither the Philippines nor the international community will ever accept China’s assertion of its so-called ‘indisputable integrated sovereignty’ over almost all of the South China Sea, part of which is the WPS,” it added.
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
NTF WPS said it remains steadfast in upholding Philippine sovereignty over its territories and protecting its EEZ in accordance with international law.
“It has increased the deployment of maritime vessels from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to undertake enhanced routine patrols to safeguard our sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national patrimony in the Kalayaan Island Group,” it added. (PNA)