MANILA, Philippines—The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has yet to decide “the best course of action” to take in dealing with the continued presence of Chinese militia vessels near Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to the AFP chief of staff.
“For now, our maritime patrols are continuing to check if there are additional or fewer vessels there in the West Philippine Sea,” AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters.
On Monday (March 22), the Philippine military spotted at least 183 Chinese militia vessels on the boomerang-shaped reef inside the Philippines’ EEZ from 220 vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard last March 7.
The Chinese intrusion continued despite a diplomatic protest filed by the Philippine government on Sunday (March 21) and a demand by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the ships to leave Philippine territory.
Sobejana said the AFP would hold a “joint assessment” with the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) if the Chinese vessels refused to leave.
“We have our mandate and are capable to perform our missions,” said the AFP chief.
“On the other hand, the NTF WPS takes into account other considerations. Jointly, we will assess and decide what is the best course of action to take,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila also on Monday denied the presence of maritime militia near the reef, which China named Niu’e Jiao in a sign it was staking its claim on the reef. It said the Philippines should not escalate the situation by speculating.
The Chinese fishing vessels took shelter at the reef recently due to rough sea conditions, according to the embassy. “It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under circumstances.”
The Philippine government, however, earlier said that the weather was fair at the time the vessels were spotted in the area without signs they were just fishing there.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday called on China to remove its vessels from the West Philippine Sea, including those inside Philippine EEZ near Julian Felipe Reef.
“We reiterate that the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the DFA said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.