By Martin Sadongdong
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is awaiting the official military report on the alleged presence of a China Coast Guard ship in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the West Philippine Sea.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (AFP-Wescom) on Tuesday revealed that a China Coast Guard ship has been spotted sailing near Ayungin Shoal, including 42 Chinese and Vietnamese fishing vessels, since August 1.
“We haven’t received the official report yet so we’re trying to get a report from the Wescom, requiring them to make the official report to us,” Lorenzana said.
Ayungin Shoal is a small group of islets and reefs located about 105 nautical miles of Palawan.
A Philippine military unit has been deployed in the area, and the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine Navy ship, stays aground there.
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Pentrante, spokesman of the AFP-Wescom, said the sighting of a China Coast Guard ship near Ayungin Shoal was no longer new to them.
“Talaga naman pong may presence ng China Coast Guard doon sa Ayungin tsaka ang iba mga Vietnamese (There’s nothing new with the presence of China Coast Guard in Ayungin, including the Vietnamese),” Pentrante said.
He also revealed that at least 27 Chinese and Vietnamese fishing vessels have also been frequenting Panatag or Scarborough Shoal.
Pentrante admitted that the sighting was a “cause for concern” although he assured the public that the Palawan-based Wescom will remain vigilant in monitoring the presence of the foreign ships in the West Philippine Sea.
“Tayo po naman ay always vigilant at minomonitor din po natin ito. Tinitignan natin kung anong ginagawa nila dyan. Nandyan lang naman po sila palipat-lipat, mamaya-maya nagrerefurbish (We are always vigilant and we are monitoring them, too. We observe what they do in the area. They’re just there, going from one place to another, then they will refurbish),” he said.
“Palagi na natin silang nakikita noon pa man (We are used to seeing them even before) so these are white ships na hindi naman (not) battle ships,” he added.
Lorenzana, on the other hand, said the defense department will take the necessary steps with regard the latest sighting once he receives the military report about it.
“We will wait for the report about it then we will think of what our response will be,” he said.
The latest incident surfaced just as the Philippine government fired off several diplomatic protests due to the uninformed passage and operation of Chinese warships and survey ships in the Philippine territorial waters.