The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sent out eight ships of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to conduct for two weeks “maritime exercises” that the military said would simulate enforcement of maritime jurisdiction.
According to Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo, the military exercise would be held right under the noses of China, concentrating on Kalayaan island group near the Whitsun Reef where the bulk of a flotilla of Chinese military and paramilitary ships still remains.
From past experience, China is quick to protest any activity that smelled like a military exercise near the sea it claims to own.
The drill followed the joint military exercise between the Philippines and US, which studiously avoided the WPS.
The “comprehensive” maritime exercises at the West Philippine Sea were held amid the still threatening presence of Chinese military and paramilitary ships in the WPS.
“We are supporting the whole-of-nation approach in securing our maritime jurisdiction, especially the efforts of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) to undertake maritime security, maritime safety, maritime law enforcement, maritime search and rescue, and marine environmental protection roles in our country’s waters,” Balilo said.
The Philippines conducted the maritime exercise in the West Philippine Sea as the country filed fresh diplomatic protests against China for its incursions.
The Philippine Coast Guard said it used eight capital ships with the government, along with BFAR to intensify their training on navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations.
BRP Gabriela Silang and BRP Sindangan began their training near Bajo de Masinloc while the BRP Cabra, BRP Malapascua and BFAR Vessels started exercises since last week near Pag-asa Island, said Balilo.
Aside from its exercises in Bajo De Masinloc and Pag-asa Island, the ships will also train in the Batanes Group of Islands, Benham Rise, and in the southern and eastern portions of the country, Balilo said.
The Coast Guard is planning to conduct medical and dental missions among local residents and coastal families in the Pag-asa Island next week, he added.
The Philippine Coast Guard is conducting drills in the South China Sea which an official said were part of efforts to secure “our maritime jurisdiction” over the disputed waters.
The exercises near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island and China-controlled Scarborough Shoal come amid heightened tensions over the resource-rich sea.
The latest diplomatic wrangle between the two countries was triggered by the detection last month of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Spratly Islands. Most of the boats have since dispersed around the contested archipelago.
China has refused repeated demands by the Philippines to call back the ships, which Manila says are maritime militia vessels and Beijing claims are just fishing boats.
In response, the Philippines has deployed more patrol vessels, including coast guard and navy ships, to intensify surveillance and prevent illegal fishing.
The drill is being held near Thitu Island and Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Batanes islands in the north, and the southern and eastern parts of the country.
Scarborough Shoal, one of the region’s richest fishing grounds, has long been a flashpoint between Manila and Beijing. China seized it from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.
The Foreign Affairs department has been filing daily protests over the Chinese vessels and, in a rare move, recently summoned Beijing’s envoy to express its “utmost displeasure” over the issue.
The Philippines has sent two new diplomatic protests to China over its failure to withdraw what it called “threatening” vessels that were massing in contested areas of the South China Sea.