AFP recommends building structures in West PH Sea to assert sovereignty

Aileen Cerrudo   •   April 23, 2021   •   546

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has recommended building structures in the West Philippine Sea to boost the country’s presence in the disputed territories.

AFP Chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said it would take two to three months for the country’s maritime vessels to go around the West Philippine Sea. He also added that the country’s naval assets are not enough to patrol given the scope of the area.

Due to this, the AFP and the Philippine Navy continue their modernization; however, there is a need for additional budget.

“Dagdagan ang ating modernization fund para mas marami tayong mabiling sasakyang pandagat. At isa pa itong ating procurement law kung saan napaka-rigid. Ang hirap bumili ng pangangailangan ng ating Armed Forces of the Philippines (Increase our modernization fund so that we can procure naval vessels. One more thing, the procurement law is also rigid. It is difficult to procure for the needs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines),he said.

Aside from additional naval ships, the AFP also recommends building structures including cold storage facilities, light houses, and rest areas for Filipino fishermen.

“We are also entertaining the idea, of course, subject to the wisdom of NTF-WPS na magtatayo ng istruktura sa naturang lugar katulad ng ginagawa rin ng China. Kasi ang dahilan kung bakit hindi tayo nagtatayo diyan noong araw kasi may napag-uusapan na wala dapat magpatayo (to build structures in the said areas similar to what China has done. We did not build any structures there previously because it was discussed not to do so),” Sobejana said.

Meanwhile, the AFP did not elaborate if the structures would also include military headquarters. AAC (with reports from Lea Ylagan)

287 Chinese vessels spotted in Kalayaan waters, NTF-WPS says

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A number of Chinese vessels were seen scattered in various features of the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan according to the latest maritime patrol, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said Wednesday.

Citing a report from the Area Task Force-West on the results of its maritime patrol on May 9, the NTF-WPS said that a total of 287 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels were sighted in Kalayaan waters, both within and outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Bigger groupings of CMMs were sighted at the artificial islands of China while some were observed near islands occupied by the Philippines,” the task force said in a statement.

The recent sighting of Chinese vessels in the area is despite demands from Philippine government officials for China to withdraw its ships in the country’s territorial waters.

The NTF-WPS said that based on the maritime patrol, 2 CMMs and two Houbei Class Missile warships were seen inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef; one CMM was at Lawak (Nanshan) Island; 11 CMMs were located approximately 29NM southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank; and one CMM vessel was at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

One Chinese Coast Guard was also seen at the shoal during an earlier patrol on May 7, the task force said.

“As for the features forming part of the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, the 9 May 2021 maritime patrol reported the presence of 34 CMMs at Juan Felipe (Whitsun) Reef (JFR), two Vietnamese (VN) logistics/supply ships and one VN Coast Guard vessel at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef and 77 CMMs in Chigua Reef,” the NTF-WPS said.

The Julian Felipe Reef is a low tide elevation located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan and within 200 nautical miles (NM) of the Philippines’ EEZ.

“It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12NM territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan,” the task force said.

The NTF-WPS also said that the 14 CMM vessels and one CCG vessel were spotted off the main Pagasa Island, and 16 CMMs at Zamora (Subi) Reef during the May 9 maritime patrol.

“For the period 3-10 May, the Area Task Force-North reported an average of four CCG vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), and an average of one CCG each for both the Pag-asa Islands and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal,” it added.

Despite China’s illegal unilateral “fishing ban” covering its fishing vessels in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, from May 1 to August 16, 2021, the task force said two CMMs were observed harvesting shells inside the lagoon of the Bajo de Masinloc.

It also noted a daily average of 10 Filipino fishing boats seen fishing inside the Bajo de Masinloc lagoon for the period of May 7 to 9.

Amid the presence of Chinese vessels in the contested waters, the NTF-WPS said that the Philippine government “continues to strengthen its presence in the WPS with a view towards law enforcement, deterrence of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and protection of the welfare and safety of our fisherfolk.”

The task force also urged Filipino fishermen to sail and fish in the West Philippine Sea.

“The National Task Force remains guided by the national policy and interest in asserting our territorial and sovereign rights as upheld by the 2016 arbitral ruling. The articulation of President Rodrigo Duterte at the 75th UN General Assembly emphasizing that the ruling is now part of international law and beyond compromise remains the supreme expression of foreign policy by this government,” it said.

“We reiterated that the Philippines shall continue to defend its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, and shall not yield an inch of our territory,” it added.

Terrorist group sub-leader killed in Maguindanao ops – military

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A local terrorist group sub-leader was neutralized in a special military operation in Maguindanao, the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) said.

In a statement, WestMinCom chief Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr. said the operation was conducted on May 11 in Barangay Dapaiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao.

Members of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade launched the operation, which led to the death of Kopang Sahak, a.k.a. Tarzan, a sub-leader of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maguid Group.

Kopang Sahak had a standing warrant of arrest for frustrated murder charges and was also listed in the Department of National Defense (DND) Arrest Order No. 216, according to 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade commander, Colonel Pedro Balisi.

“With the neutralization of their leader, it is expected that the group will weaken,” Vinluan said.

Major General Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Central, said state forces will continue to mount offensives to go after the remaining members of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maguid Group in the area.

Since January 2021, a total of 11 Daulah Islamiyah personalities were neutralized in central Mindanao, the military said.

Duterte: I asked Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping for help on COVID-19 vaccines but no talks on WPS

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday disclosed that he asked help from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in obtaining COVID-19 vaccines but insisted that they did not discuss issues on the West Philippine Sea.

During his Talk to the People public address on Monday night, Duterte recalled how he called Xi when the Philippines had yet to get any supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Let me just also say na itong history na… for public consumption na ito. Tumawag ako kay President Xi Jinping, sinabi ko kasi noong kasagsagan ng walang dumating talaga, walang makapkap si Secretary (Carlito) Galvez (Jr.), tumawag ako, sabi ko, ‘Mr. President (Xi), I would like to ask for your help until now Philippines is at a loss on how to get vaccines,’” he said.

“Sabi niya, ‘it’s okay we will help you.’ Ganoon lang. Hindi naman sinabi na kalimutan mo yung Scarborough Shoal, bigyan kita… Sinabi niya lang as simple as that,” he added.

The Philippines first received 600,000 doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines that were donated by the Chinese government on February 28. The national government used this supply to roll out its vaccination program on March 1.

In total, the Philippines has received 1 million donated Sinovac vaccine doses from China, including the 400,000 doses that were delivered in March.

Duterte stood by his earlier statement that the Philippines owes a debt of gratitude to China for all its help but emphasized that there would be no compromise on the West Philippine Sea issue.

“It’s never, never wrong to say that I owe you a debt of gratitude. Totoo eh, binigyan tayo, tinanggap natin, ginamit natin,” he said.

“But it does not mean na tanggapin ko ang bakuna tapos sabihin ko kalimutan ko na yung claim diyan sa West Philippine sea, okay na yun dahil sa bakuna… It was never like that, the world does not operate like that,” he added.

He said there would be no compromise on the issue and that China knows it.

“Maski bahain tayo dito ng vaccine, gagamitin ko pa rin pero sabihin ko ‘hindi ito kabayaran’. Iba ito. This is a Philippine national interest, this is not a health issue that nagpasalamat ako,” he said.

Correction:
An earlier version of this article misstated that “they did discuss issues.” 

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