The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) have deployed two patrol ships and a jet trainer to Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as China continues to defy the call of top defense and military officials to recall hundreds of their suspected maritime militia vessels in the area.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday night, March 28, that the Philippine Navy (PN) and PCG each sent one patrol ship while the Philippine Air Force (PAF) deployed an AS-211 jet aircraft for maritime patrols in the tension-filled waters.
Lorenzana did not identify which patrol ships were sent by the PN and PCG.
However, Ryan Martinson, of the China Maritime Studies Institute, said on March 26 that PCG’s BRP Cabra, a Parola-class patrol vessel, arrived at the Julian Felipe Reef via Pag-asa (Thitu) Island and stayed for one day.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo has yet to respond to queries as to which patrol ship was deployed by the PN.
“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines. There will be an increased presence of the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard ships to conduct sovereignty patrols and protect our fishermen in the West Philippine Sea,” Lorenzana said.
Further, the Defense Chief said that they have already coordinated with other government agencies, including the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), to unify their efforts in the West Philippine Sea and Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, which is located in the Kalayaan Island Group, is the nearest Philippine-occupied feature to Julian Felipe Reef. A community of Filipino fishermen and a military contingent are stationed on Pag-asa Island while several development works, such as a beaching ramp, were completed last year to pave the way for the development of the island.
“Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS and KIG,” Lorenzana said.
He stressed that the country is committed to keep freedom of navigation and maintain regional peace and stability in the area by securing the West Philippine Sea and its islands in the Kalayaan area.
Lorenzana reiterated his call on the Chinese government to “immediately” withdraw their vessels, which are suspected to be manned by maritime militiamen, at the Julian Felipe Reef. He said this was already communicated to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.
Several nations including the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom have expressed support to the Philippines as they called out China’s deployment of their vessels in the West Philippine Sea. A diplomatic protest was already filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) over the incident.
Around 220 Chinese vessels were monitored at Julian Felipe Reef on March 7, according to the National Task Force (NTF) for the West Philippine Sea. Last March 23, the AFP conduct an aerial survey in the West Philippine Sea and found out that there remained 183 Chinese vessels moored at the Julian Felipe Reef.
Simularity, a United States-based technology firm, said that Chinese vessels have been frequenting Julian Felipe Reef since November 2020.