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Demand for pullout of Chinese vessels from Philippine reef conveyed to Chinese military —AFP

The Philippine military has conveyed to its Chinese counterpart the demand for the close to 200 Chinese vessels to leave Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

However, representatives of the China’s People’s Liberation Army reiterated the Chinese government's stand that the vessels were not manned by Chinese militia and are just taking refuge in the area amid foul weather, Major General Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said on Thursday.

Arevalo said the meeting took place Wednesday.

“We  conveyed the Defense Secretary’s demand for the vessels to leave Julian Felipe Reef where 183 vessels were sighted per AFP’s recent aerial patrol,” he said.

“China’s People’s Liberation Army representatives reiterated their government’s assurance that those ships were not manned by militia and that those were constrained to seek shelter in the area when inclement weather hampered their fishing activity.”

AFP chief General Cirilito Sobejana has ordered the deployment of more Navy ships to intensify the maritime sovereignty patrols in the West Philippine Sea, Arevalo said.

“Aside from those measures, the AFP likewise resorts to non-traditional means to manage the issues arising in the WPS,” he said.

Arevalo noted that he cannot add  further details about the matter, saying that other questions are for the National Task Force WPS to answer.

On Monday, Sobejana said they sighted 183 Chinese militia vessels off the reef after reports claimed that around 220 Chinese vessels were seen moored there on March 7.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has appealed to China to pull out the 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 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

The United States has expressed support to the Philippines, while Japan has called for the enforcement of the rule of law in the sea.

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 Exclusive Economic Zone 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.

"Niu’e Jiao is a part of China’s Nansha Qundao. Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years," the embassy said. --KBK, GMA News