West Philippine Sea

Defense chief vows more navy, coast guard ships in West Philippine Sea

Sofia Tomacruz
Defense chief vows more navy, coast guard ships in West Philippine Sea

JULIAN FELIPE REEF. Closer view of one set of fishing vessels at Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, in this Maxar handout satellite image taken March 23, 2021.

Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters

'We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines,' says Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana vowed more vessels of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea, as Chinese ships refused to leave the vicinity of a reef in Philippine waters.

In a statement on Saturday night, March 27, Lorenzana confirmed the recent deployment of navy and coast guard ships to Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), where around 220 Chinese vessels supposedly manned by its maritime militia have been spotted.

“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines. 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,” Lorenzana said. 

The defense chief’s statement comes after the Philippines repeatedly demanded that China “immediately withdraw” its vessels from the area. China has so far failed to heed this call, however, and has continued to insist its fishing vessels were talking shelter near the reef from “rough sea conditions.”

On Saturday night, Lorenzana reiterated this call, adding the demand had also been communicated to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian

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The lingering of Chinese ships, initially spotted on March 7, has prompted the Philippines to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea believes the fishing vessels were manned by Chinese maritime militia due to its continued presence in the area, despite showing no signs of “actual fishing activities.”

By sending more navy and coast guard ships to the area, Lorenzana said “the Philippines reinforces its commitment to keeping the freedom of navigation and maintaining regional peace and stability.”

Lorenzana said a Philippine Navy ship and a Philippine Coast Guard ship were currently near Julian Felipe Reef to monitor the situation. Along with this, the Philippine Air Force deployed an AS211 jet aircraft every day to likewise keep tabs on the actual situation in the area. 

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The presence of Chinese ships near Julian Felipe Reef has prompted experts to warn that it could be a “prelude” to China’s occupying of another maritime feature in Philippine waters, as it did in Mischief Reef in 1995.

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– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.