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Lorenzana on Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef: We are ready to defend national sovereignty

Lorenzana on Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef: We are ready to defend national sovereignty

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday assured the public that the government is addressing the situation in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea and is ready to defend the national sovereignty.

"I assure our people that we are addressing the situation. We stand by our position calling for the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef, which was communicated to the Chinese Ambassador," Lorenzana said in a statement sent to reporters.

"We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines," he added.

Lorenzana said more Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard ships will be sent to the area.

"There will be an increased presence of the Philippine Navy  and Philippine Coast Guard ships to conduct sovereignty patrols and protect our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea," he said.

"A Philippine navy ship and a Philippine Coast Guard are currently in the area monitoring the actual situation there. The PAF deploys an element of AS211 jet aircraft every day with the same mission. Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS and KIG," the Defense chief added.

"The Department of National Defense (DND) is coordinating with other government agencies like the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Aquatic and Fisheries Resources to coordinate our efforts in the WPS and the Kalayaan Island Group (municipality of Pag-asa)," he said.

"By securing the West Philippine Sea and its islands in the Kalayaan area, the Philippines reinforces its commitment to keeping the freedom of navigation and maintaining regional peace and stability," Lorenzana said.

Around 220 Chinese vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel were moored at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea earlier said.

AFP chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana last week said 183 vessels believed to be Chinese maritime militia were spotted by Philippine Air Force aircraft in the area.

The Philippines on Tuesday demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Chinese vessels illegally moored within the West Philippine Sea, saying their lingering presence was a blatant infringement of the country's sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

Manila lodged a diplomatic protest against China on March 21, a move backed by the United States.

The Chinese Embassy however denied that the vessels were operated by Chinese maritime militia. It said that the vessels were only "seeking shelter" near the reef, which they claimed is part of China's Nansha Islands or Spratlys in the South China Sea.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Saturday said that China, even with its aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea, has no intention of invading the country.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana said Saturday the Chinese vessels' presence in Julian Felipe Reef is a matter of concern but there is no need to panic.

He urged the Philippine government to be vigilant regarding the situation in Juan Felipe Reef saying it is the “price of sovereignty.”

“We should just exercise a high degree of vigilance, a high degree of monitoring and see what happens on the ground,” he said.

The Philippine ambassador said he expects this matter to be resolved with an “abundance of diplomacy.” —KG, GMA News