The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Sunday that more than 135 vessels of the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) have been spotted off Julian Felipe Reef— located within the Philippine area of responsibility.
In a statement released Sunday, the PCG said the CMM vessels were previously estimated at 125, a significant increase from the 111 CMM ships recorded on November 13, 2023.
This comes as PCG Commandant, Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan on Saturday, December 2, 2023, deployed PCG vessels BRP Sindangan and BRP Cabra to conduct patrols near the reef. Located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza in Palawan, the Julian Felipe Reef is considered a low-tide elevation within the territorial sea of relevant high-tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group.
“No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels which [are] now estimated to have grown (to) more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef,” the PCG said.
“The PCG maintains its unwavering commitment to safeguarding maritime security, safety, and the marine environment in the course of protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea,” the PCG assured.
The Philippines sued China and won in 2016 as it secured a landmark ruling by an international tribunal invalidating Beijing’s massive South China Sea claims and upheld the Philippine ownership over the West Philippine Sea.
China has refused to acknowledge the ruling, with over 50 of its vessels spotted in the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal, as reported by the Western Command earlier in September.
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. last November said he told Chinese officials to uphold international law, and follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding areas of the South China Sea.
Marcos in January said China will not stop Filipino fishermen from fishing despite tensions in the West Philippine Sea, citing an agreement between Manila and Beijing.
In March, however, China maintained that it has sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal, following reports of the Philippine Coast Guard of a ‘close distance maneuvering’ incident involving a Chinese vessel in the area.—RF, GMA Integrated News