Chinese research vessel spotted, sought refuge inside PH territory amid bad weather

Published December 2, 2020, 5:38 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The military has monitored a Chinese coastal research survey vehicle (CRV) inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) sometime in September this year, a high military official bared Wednesday.

In a virtual press conference, Lieutenant General Arnulfo Burgos Jr., commander of the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom), said the Chinese CRV “JIA GENG” sought refuge after being caught in the middle of a weather disturbance while out at sea.

It was spotted by the military about 59 nautical miles west of Calayan Island in Cagayan province last September 18.

“When I was I think in my second week or third week as commander of the Northern Luzon Command, we have monitored a vessel –a CRV– so what we did was to challenge, pinaliparan natin (we deployed an air asset),” said Burgos, who was installed as the NolCom commander on September 7, 2020.

There were two recorded storms that entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) in September: the Typhoon Leon which hit land on the third week of the month and Typhoon Kristine which entered in the early part of the month but did not make a landfall.

The military commander was not sure where the Chinese CRV was headed or what it was doing at the time but he said the vessel stayed inside the Philippine territory for two days before it left. 

“Napansin namin that the following day nandoon pa rin siya sa exclusive economic zone pero lumayo na. What we did was lumipad uli kami, mayroon tayong tinatawag na maritime air surveillance, pinaliparan pa rin natin and we challenged that vessel. It responded favorably saying ‘we are going away’ so palabas na sila. True enough, on the third [day], wala na sila sa exclusive economic zone,” Burgos narrated.

Under Philippine laws, a foreign research vessel should secure an approval from the government before it can conduct a survey, otherwise, it will be considered an intrusion and violation of the maritime rules.

Under the Duterte administration, the defense and military have raised to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) –in a number of instances– the uninformed presence of Chinese research vessels and warships inside the Philippines’ EEZ, prompting the filing of diplomatic protests against Beijing.

Meanwhile, Burgos said that he has ordered an intensified monitoring of the northern Luzon since he became the head of the NolCom to ensure that the country’s maritime territory is protected. 

“Ang maganda kasi rito is namo-monitor natin itong mga vessels na pumapasok sa exclusive economiz zone natin. That’s why ang ating intent really is mapalawig pa natin ‘yung ating mga littoral monitoring stations,” he noted.

Burgos also emphasized the importance of regular drills to ensure that the troops are well-informed in dealing with different scenarios that require military response, just like the uninformed presence of foreign vessels inside the country’s territory.

Relatedly, the military has completed its joint inter-operability exercises (JIOE) in San Antonio, Zambales as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-wide Joint Exercise (AJEX) DAGIT-PA.

Different units from the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, and Philippine Navy participated in the JIOE which was held on Tuesday. It focused on the capabilities development of the troops in maritime security and amphibious operations.

“We were able to meet the objectives of this amphibious landing and the island defense exercises which seek to develop the military skills, techniques, and capabilities during rapid deployment of troops, from ship to shore, whether or under hazardous circumstances or during natural disasters or hostile enemy actions,” Burgos said.

Marine Major General Edgard Arevalo, AJEX DAGIT-PA exercise director, said part of the learning objectives in the joint drills was the logistics run and support of the deployed personnel in some contested areas in the South China Sea, including the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group, West Philippine Sea.

“There have been issues in the past especially on the matter of other claimants in the area but, as we said, this is part of our mandate to sustain our personnel specifically the requirements in the areas where they are deployed. Let us remember, specifically Pagasa Island, it is the seat of the municipality of Kalayaan,” said Arevalo.

But Arevalo pointed out that the drills were not directed to any country nor a sign of a looming danger.

“This is not directed to any country or any activity or danger in the offing. We always do this to prepare ourselves,” he said.

“Mas mabuti na prepared tayo in all and any other contingencies because that is what spells the difference — preparedness, readiness, and capability.”