Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana said the AFP deployed more Navy and Coast Guard ships in a stare-down match with China, while a Philippine Air Force jet flew daily “sovereign patrol” sortie.
The tense situation in West Philippine Sea continues as nearly 200 Chinese militia ships remain at Julian Felipe Reef.
Lorenzana said his office also plans to leave a manned Navy ship grounded at the site occupied by the Chinese vessels to stand guard there. This would be similar to the situation of BRP Sierra Madre manned by Philippine Marines deliberately marooned at Ayungin Shoal.
“Yun ang isang suggestion ng, I think West Philippine Sea Task Force, sinasabi nila kung puwedeng dalahin na natin ‘yung isang tanker dun, ilagay dun,” Lorenzana said in a TV interview.
The Chinese ships have been in the country’s maritime waters since March 7, ignoring calls from Philippine officials for China to remove them. By the latest count of the military, at least 183 vessels remain holed out at the reef.
Several countries, including Australia and Japan, have backed the call of the Philippines, urging China to observe maritime laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“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,” said Lorenzana.
“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,” he added.
Filipino and Chinese military officials met before the weekend in order to defuse the situation. Lorenzana’s call for the removal of the Chinese maritime militia vessels was also relayed by military officials to their Chinese counterparts.
No development was reported after the meeting and the Chinese government has apparently not taken any action.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier filed a diplomatic protest with China over the vessel swarm, though Chinese officials insisted these were simply fishing boats seeking shelter from rough seas.
Lorenzana said apart from four Philippine navy ships, including two new missile frigates, and a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, a Philippine Air Force AS211 jet is also in the area “every day with the same mission.”
“Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and Kalayaan Island group,” the Defense secretary assured the public.
Lorenzana said the Department of National Defense is coordinating with other government agencies like the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to coordinate the country’s effort in the WPS and the Kalayaan Island Group, which he stressed is part of the Municipality of Pag-asa.
“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,” he said.
Lorenzana said the Philippines is ready to defend its sovereignty, as he reiterated his call on China to immediately withdraw its vessels still in formation in Julian Felipe Reef.
“We stand by our position calling for the immediate withdrawal of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, which was communicated to the Chinese ambassador. We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.