MANILA – A National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) official said China’s unilateral fishing ban on all Chinese fishing vessels in the areas of the South China Sea, north of the 12th parallel, from May 1 to August 16, does not apply to Filipino fishermen.
“The NTF WPS opposes China’s imposition of the same over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines. The NTF WPS reiterates that our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS,” NTF WPS chairperson Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said in a statement Tuesday.
The Philippines, he said, is fully resolved in defending its territory and possessions for the benefit of the Filipino people and will not be deterred from defending its national interest, patrimony, and dignity as a people with all available resources.
“Thus, the conduct of law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises in the WPS and Municipality of Kalayaan by the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) and the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) will continue as directed by the President. The government is firm in its resolve to protect what is ours for the benefit of the Filipinos,” said Esperon, who is also National Security Adviser.
This came following reports of shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges conducted by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) against Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels BRP Gabriela Silang and BRP Sindangan while conducting legitimate law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc (BdM) on April 24 and 25.
On April 27, the PCG vessel BRP Cabra accompanied by BFAR vessels MCS 3002 and 3004 proceeded to Sabina Shoal, located 130 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and east of Ayungin Shoal, in performance of WPS law enforcement functions and maritime exercises.
Upon their arrival, the Philippine ships sighted seven Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels nested or in stationary linear formation off Sabina Shoal.
“The crew of BRP Cabra issued a series of challenges to the offending vessels but elicited no response from the CMMs. After around 20 minutes, however, the CMMs vessels dispersed and left the shoal after being challenged by BRP Cabra,” he said.
Also, on April 29, the BRP Cabra spotted five CMMs that immediately left upon arrival of the Philippine ships.
He said the NTF WPS condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions that violate Philippine sovereignty.
The Philippine government, he said, will not shirk from its constitutional obligation in preserving and protecting its territorial integrity and in the exercise of its sovereign rights.
“As part of our rotational patrol over BdM, PCG vessels BRP Sindangan and BFAR MCS 3005 are en route to the area to enforce our fisheries laws and protect our fishermen. On the other hand, BRP Malapascua is underway to the Municipality of Kalayaan,” he said.
Aside from government maritime patrols, the Area Task Force West also regularly conducts Joint Seaborne Patrol Operations (JSPO) around the Pag-asa Islands, covering the sandbars to the west and reefs to the east of the main island.
Esperon said these include regular patrols to Pag-asa Cay 2 (Sandy Cay), contrary to claims that the Philippines has “lost” this feature that is part of the country’s territory.
“The NTF WPS emphasizes that the maritime exercises and patrols routinely conducted by the PCG and BFAR are part of the maritime law enforcement activities of its member agencies in the exercise of Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over our territorial seas and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), respectively,” he said.
The deployment of law enforcement patrols and conduct of maritime exercises by the PCG and the Department of Agriculture-BFAR vessels, on a rotational basis over the waters of the Municipality of Kalayaan and Exclusive Economic Zone, is pursuant to our exercise of sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea (WPS),
This is consistent with the government’s commitment against illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF), and to enforce our laws on maritime security and safety, and environmental protection.
“The BFAR also is implementing its Integrated Maritime Environment Monitoring System (IMEMS) to counter IUUF, for monitoring of fishing vessels, and accounting of fishing catches and landings to ensure effective and efficient fisheries management,” Esperon said.
He added that these government patrols will be joined by the Philippine National Police– Maritime Group regional maritime units that will be assigned to the Area Task Forces West and North for involvement in seaborne operations.
“We reiterate our call to all nations and stakeholders to reconsider their actions, cooperate and comply with their international obligations,” he added.
He added that they welcome the most recent diplomatic protests filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against the illegal Chinese activities in the Philippine territory, and exclusive economic zone within the WPS – a vast, resource-rich part of the South China Sea and within the 200-nautical mile EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines. (PNA)