Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said the Philippines did not send Navy ships to the Julian Felipe Reef despite the presence of Chinese vessels there so as not to stir up tension in the area.
Interviewed on CNN Philippines, Lorenzana said the Philippines can only deploy ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to the reef for now.
“Ayaw kasi nating matawag tayo na provoking tayo by bringing our Navy ships in the areas. We will be charged of provoking an incident at saka militarizing the area,” he said.
(We may be accused of provocation if ever we send Navy ships there. We may also be accused of militarizing the area.)
However, Lorenzana said stationing a vessel in the reef like what the Philippines did in the Ayungin Shoal is one of the "suggestions" that the National Task Force West Philippine Sea is considering.
"There was a suggestion and we are studying it," he told reporters in a separate interview. "No decision to do it."
On March 7, the Coast Guard spotted 226 Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the country's Exclusive Economic Zone, according to Lorenzana. The number has since decreased to 183, he said.
Lorenzana earlier appealed to China to pull out the militia vessels, saying the deployment breaches maritime rights and sovereignty.
The Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of vessels off Julian Felipe Reef.
The Chinese Embassy, however, denied that the vessels were operated by Chinese Maritime Militia. It said that the fishing vessels are only "seeking shelter" near the reef, which they claimed is part of China's Nansha Islands or Spratlys in the South China Sea.
According to Lorenzana, the Coast Guard checked and said that the sea condition outside the reef was indeed choppy.
The reef, called Niu’e Jiao by China, is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
It is within the Philippine EEZ and Continental Shelf, over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas. —KBK, GMA News