China should pull out its over 240 ships lingering in the West Philippine Sea and respect the country’s sovereignty, a government task force in charge of looking after the area said Tuesday night.
According to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), the swarming of the Chinese vessels was “prejudicial to the peace and security” in the region.
“The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) denounces the continuous swarming in the WPS by Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Maritime Militia which are claimed by Chinese authorities to be ordinary fishing vessels,” it said in a statement.
“The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” said the task force chaired by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
The task force said presence of the Chinese vessels posed “a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ.”
Citing a report from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, the task force said the following Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels have been spotted in the waters of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan and the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone:
-136 CMMs at Burgos (Gaven) Reef
– 9 at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef
-65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef
– 6 at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef
– 3 at Zamora (Subi) Reef
– 4 at the Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands
– 1 at Likas (West York) Island
– 5 at Kota (Loaita) Island
– 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal
The task force also expressed concern about the possible illegal fishing by these foreign vessels in the country’s local waters.
“These 240 CMM vessels, now dispersed at the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Islands, are about sixty (60) meters in length. A minimum estimate that each can catch one (1) ton of fish amounts to a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea,” it said.
“These acts fall under illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF),” it added.
The task force mentioned that a previous coast guard patrol detected Chinese poachers were collecting giant clams in the vicinity of the Pag-asa Islands. The poachers left when the Philippine Coast Guard approached them. “This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),” it said.
Apart from the CMM vessels, the task force confirmed the presence of the following Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels in the country’s waters:
– 2 Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef
– 1 Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef
– 1 Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef
Two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were also spotted in the territorial sea of the Pag-asa Islands.
Based on AFP monitoring, two PLAN, three CG, and 10 CMM vessels were seen at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough) Shoal. All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area, the task force said.
“The combined presence of PLAN warships, CCG and CMM in the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ is prejudicial to the peace and security of the region.
The government previously filed a diplomat protest over the unlawful stay of the Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef but Beijng ignored the plea. It claimed the fishing vessels were taking refuge from rough seas. The task force later found out there were still Chinese vessels lingering in the reef while others have spread to other parts of the West Philippine Sea.
“In keeping with its role as a development partner, China should take the Philippine representations seriously and respect Philippine sovereignty, rights and interests in consonance with the further strengthening of Philippine-China bilateral relations,” the task force said in the latest statement.
The task force likewise expressed “serious alarm” the reported pursuit of a Filipino vessel by Chinese ships during their voyage at Ayungin Shoal. The incident is now under investigation, it said.