AFP deploys planes, ships as hundreds of Chinese militias spotted in another PH reef in WPS

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reiterated Sunday, March 21, its strong resolve to protect the country's maritime interests in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as new reports of incursion of Chinese vessels were monitored at the Julian Felipe Reef.


Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said they already received a report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels believed to be manned by maritime militia personnel were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) last March 7.

"The AFP's Western Command has dispatched Air Force and Navy assets to conduct air and maritime sovereignty patrols to further validate the report," Arevalo said.

"Appropriate reports were made and forwarded to other agencies of government through the General Headquarters of such monitored numbers of CMM ," he added.

Arevalo said that concerned agencies used the reports made by the AFP General Headquarters to take "appropriate actions not limited to filing diplomatic protests."

"The AFP will not renege from our commitment to protect and defend our maritime interest within the bounds of the law," the military spokesperson emphasized.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which has filed numerous diplomatic protests against China's violations in the West Philippine Sea, has yet to confirm whether it already filed a protest against the reported Chinese incursion at the Julian Felipe Reef.

According to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), the Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The reef is positioned within the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS), over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas.

"Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time," the NTF-WPS said in a statement.

It described the sighting as a "concern" due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as "risks to safety of navigation."

"The government will continue to monitor the situation as it remains steadfast in its duty to protect Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in the country’s maritime domain," the NTF-WPS vowed.

"In consonance with the Philippine commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the government shall continue to peacefully and proactively pursue its initiatives on environmental protection, food security and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea as part of its overall national security policy," it added.

Both China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has since tightened its grip on the territories it claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea or the area within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines' claims and invalidated the legality of China's nine-dash line claim. However, China did not honor the ruling.

Aside from China and the Philippines, other countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea include Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.