MANILA, Philippines — A number of Chinese vessels were seen scattered in various features of the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan in 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.