THE Philippines is urging Filipinos to continue fishing in the West Philippine Sea — an apparent move against China’s declaration of a fishing ban in areas it has claimed in the South China Sea.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Wednesday said while the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) took note of the unilateral fishing ban by Beijing, this does not mean that the Philippines will abide by it.
“The fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen and the NTF-WPS opposes China’s imposition of the same over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines,” Esperon, also the NTF-WPS chairman, said in a three-page statement to reporters.
“The NTF-WPS reiterates that our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS,” he added.
Esperon said that the Philippines “maintains the deployment” of several patrol vessels. Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships conduct maritime exercises on a rotational basis within the Kalayaan Island Group and the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Esperon said the maritime exercises and patrols were pursuant to exercising the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, “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 problem.”
In response to the Chinese vessels’ IUUF actions within the Philippine territory, the Cabinet official said the BFAR was implementing its Integrated Maritime Environment Monitoring System for the purpose of monitoring fishing vessels and the accounting of fishing catches and landings “to ensure effective and efficient fisheries management.”
Apart from the Philippine Coast Guard and BFAR, Esperon said they will be joined by the Philippine National Police’s Maritime Group.
Esperon added that the task force condemns “in the strongest terms” the “violation of our sovereignty” by the Chinese Coast Guard against the PCG’s BRP Gabriela Silang and BRP Sindangan, which conducted law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises within Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in April.
This incident prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest against China.
Aside from Bajo de Masinloc, Esperon said that government maritime patrols would also cover the Pag-asa (Thitu) I:sland and its nearby sandbars which, he admitted, was in response to “claims that the Philippines has ‘lost’ this feature which is part of our territory.”
During the last week of April, Esperon said the coast guard vessel BRP Cabra, along with two BFAR ships, went to Sabina Shoal, located 130 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and the east of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, for the purpose of patrols and maritime exercises.
He disclosed that the coast guard spotted seven Chinese vessels, which they called maritime militia ships, “nested or in stationary linear formation at Sabina Shoal.”
“The crew of BRP Cabra issued a series of challenges to the offending vessels, but elicited no response from the CMMs (Chinese maritime militia ships). After around 20 minutes, however, the CMM vessels dispersed and left the shoal after being challenged by BRP Cabra,” Esperon said.
After two days, the PCG vessel returned to the Sabina Shoal where five Chinese vessels had remained. Upon the arrival of BRP Cabra, Esperon said the Chinese ships “left the area.”
“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, respectively,” Esperon pointed out.
“The Philippines is not deterred from defending our national interest, patrimony, and our dignity as a people with all that we have. Thus, the conduct of law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises in the WPS and Municipality of Kalayaan by the PCG and the BFAR will continue as directed by the President,” he added.
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