To avoid provoking China, PH not stationing navy ship in Julian Felipe reef

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines will not station navy ships in the Julian Felipe Reef to avoid provoking the Chinese presence in the area. 

Instead, Lorenzana said, a coast guard ship will be stationed in the reef, while a navy ship will continue patrolling the area. 

This would be the country's response to the presence of a flotilla of hundreds of Chinese ships in military formation within Philippine waters. Beijing claims the ships in the Julian Felipe Reef are fishing vessels.

“Yeah. I think we are going to station a coast guard ship there continuously, coast guard muna. But our navy ship will be patrolling the area, the general vicinity of the area. Ayaw kasi nating matawag tayo na provoking, retaining our navy ships in the area at we will be charged for provoking an incident saka militarizing the area,” the defense chief said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on March 29, 2021.

(Yeah. I think we are going to station a coast guard ship there continuously, coast guard for the meantime. But our navy ship will be patrolling the area, the general vicinity of the area. We don’t wanna be labelled as provoking, by retaining our navy ships in the area. And we will be charged for provoking an incident and militarizing the area)

Lorenzana added that the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea actually suggested stationing a navy ship in the reef to mark the Philippines’ sovereignty in the area. But, the defense secretary immediately clarified that they are still studying that option and there is “no decision” yet. 

Earlier, retired justice Antonio Carpio suggested the same tactic by putting a “landing ship” in Julian Felipe Reef just like in Ayungin Shoal.  

“I would be happy if he [Duterte] orders that we beach a landing ship on Julian Felipe Reef because that landing vessel is a public vessel and it cannot be attacked by China without triggering the Mutual Defense Treaty. China will not attack that vessel,” said Carpio in a separate interview with CNN Philippines. 

In 1999, the BRP Sierra Madre, an old and rusty navy ship, was intentionally parked in Ayungin Shoal to stand the ground of the Philippines in the territorial waters. 

Meanwhile, Lorenzana said that aside from coast guard ships, the Philippine would deploy the ships of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to protect Filipino fishermen that might be staying in Julian Felipe Reef. 

“Now the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be fielding also ship there soon hopefully this week para naman maprotektahan natin ang ating fishermen if there are fishermen, Filipino fishermen (hopefully this week so we can protect our fishermen, Filipino fishermen),” Lorenzana added. 

In a message to Rappler, Dr Collin Koh Swee Lean, a Singapore-based naval expert, warned that Julian Felipe Reef could become a de facto possession of China and outposts could be built in the area if the Philippines continues to remain lax.

He added that the latest move of China in the West Philippine Sea should be challenged.

“By not challenging this move, it would become an open approval for China (and for that matter, other South China Sea rivals), to conduct encroachment with a perceived sense of impunity. In disputed areas, this could undermine Manila’s justification of effective administration of those features or areas that it claims,” Lean said. – Rappler.com