Close to 300 Chinese militia vessels were seen scattered over various features of Kalayaan municipality in Palawan, a government task force on West Philippine Sea said Wednesday, citing results of a May 9 maritime patrol.
In a statement reporting the results of the patrol conducted by Area Task Force - West, the National Task Force on West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said 287 Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels were seen in Kalayaan waters both within and outside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"Bigger groupings of CMMs were sighted at the artificial islands of China while some where observed near islands occupied by the Philippines," it said.
This despite repeated requests from Philippine government officials -- including a strongly worded tweet from Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. -- to China to pull out its ships from Philippine waters.
The NTF-WPS said based on the maritime patrol, two CMMs and two Houbei Class Missile warship were spotted inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef; one CMM was at Lawak (Nanshan) Island; 11 CMMs were located near Recto (Reed) Bank; and one CMM vessel was at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Aside from these, one Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel was seen at Ayungin Shoal during a May 7 patrol.
Julian Felipe Reef
"As for the features forming part of the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, the 9 May 2021 maritime patrol reported the presence of thirty-four (34) CMMs at Juan Felipe (Whitsun) Reef (JFR), two (2) Vietnamese (VN) logistics/supply ships and one (1) VN Coast Guard vessel at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef and seventy seven (77) CMMs in Chigua Reef," the task force said.
Despite an earlier claim by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque that Julian Felipe Reef is not within the Philippines' EEZ, NTF-WPS maintained that it is since it is located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan.
"It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the
overlapping 12NM territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan," the task force said.
In the same statement, the NTF-WPS also said from May 3 to 10, the Area Task Force – North reported an average of four CCG vessels at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), and an average of one CCG each for both the Pag-asa Islands and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Amid the presence of Chinese militia vessels in Philippine waters, NTF-WPS said the Philippine Government "continues to strengthen its presence in the WPS with a view towards law enforcement, deterrence of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, and protection of the welfare and safety of our fisherfolk."
NTF-WPS said it is encouraging Filipino fishermen to sail and fish in the WPS, as it accused China of violating its own fishing ban.
"Despite China's illegal unilateral 'fishing ban' covering its fishing vessels in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, from 1 May to August 16, 2021, two CMMs were nonetheless observed harvesting shells inside the lagoon of [Bajo de Masinloc]," the task force said.
On the other hand, a daily average of 10 Filipino fishing boats were seen fishing inside the Bajo de Masinloc lagoon from May 7 to 9, it added. —KBK, GMA News