General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), justified the presence of foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea as he insisted that when they are monitored within the country’s territory, the AFP ensures that they are here for “legitimate” reasons and not for hostile activities.
In a Laging Handa briefing Monday, Gapay said all foreign vessels entering the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the country are bound by maritime laws, and the military is ensuring that these vessels are following the established rules.
“‘Yung mga activities naman ng Chinese vessels when they are in the international waters, may mga fishing activities sila. May mga research vessels din yata na na-monitor. These are legitimate naman and these are not hostile activities on the part of the Chinese vessels,” he said.
“When they enter our territorial waters, mayroon tayong protocols na they have to… magpapaalam sa atin. Of course, kasama na diyan ‘yung kanilang intention so ito ‘yung mga activities natin diyan in assertion of our sovereignty and protection of our territorial integrity dyan sa West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Although Gapay acknowledged that there are instances where foreign vessels — most of which are manned by Chinese nationals — are intruding the country, he noted that these are being monitored and documented by the military for the filing of a diplomatic protest.
The military chief’s remarks came after the Washington-based think-tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that the Chinese Coast Guard has increased its patrols in at least two areas in the West Philippine Sea.
The AMTI said in a report released last Friday that the CCG deployed its vessels in Panatag Shoal and Ayungin Shoal more frequently this year even amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
From December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2020, the CCG patrolled Panatag Shoal in 287 out of 366 days, according to AMTI. Meanwhile, the CCG patrolled Ayungin Shoal for 232 days, it added.
Panatag Shoal (also known as Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) is located approximately 120 nautical miles west of Zambales while Ayungin Shoal (also known as Second Thomas Shoal) lies 105 nautical miles west of Palawan. Both lies within the 200-nautical mile EEZ of the country called the West Philippine Sea.
He also assured that the military has been regularly patrolling the West Philippine Sea to assert the country’s claims in the disputed areas.
“There are some intrusions in our territorial waters that were monitored and our Armed Forces challenged them. We challenge these vessels which are entering our territorial waters,” he said.
“All of these are being monitored by your Armed Forces through our local or littoral monitoring stations strategically deployed in the West Philippine Sea. Of course, kasama na diyan ‘yung regular maritime and aerial patrols natin. We now have an enhanced maritime domain awareness capability so lahat ito ay part ng ating pagprotect at pagpreserve ng ating territory diyan sa West Phil Sea,” he added.