The number of Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea has increased to 34 based on the latest sovereignty patrol report, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) disclosed on Wednesday, May 12.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., chairperson of the NTF-WPS, said the Chinese vessels spotted at the Julian Felipe Reef were part of a total of 287 CMM vessels scattered in the West Philippine Sea during the latest patrol on May 9.
“(They are) both within and outside the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of the Philippines. Bigger groupings of CMMs were sighted at the artificial islands of China while some where observed near islands occupied by the Philippines,” said Esperon in a statement issued on Wednesday, May 12.
The Julan Felipe Reef is a low tide elevation (LTE) located 175 nautical miles (NM) from Bataraza, Palawan and within the Philippines’ 200NM EEZ.
Esperon said it is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12NM territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also Philippine territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan.
Recently, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was slammed by experts after claiming that the Julian Felipe Reef is not part of the Philippine territory.
In March this year, the Philippine Coast Guard spotted more than 200 ships swarming the Julian Felipe Reef. The Philippine government fired off several diplomatic protests that led to the reduction of fishing vessels to only nine.
A maritime law experts also warned that the conflicting and confusing statements of Philippine officials may be taken advantage of by China on the future. This includes the statement of President Duterte that the Hague ruling which favored the Philippines in a case filed against China, was just a piece of paper that he could throw in the trash bin.
But Esperon said the Philippine government will continue to undertake law enforcement function and maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea, including the maritime exercises between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources involving five ships.
“These vessels are being complemented by the Philippine National Police – Maritime Group (PNP-MG) through the assignment of four high speed tactical watercraft, three police gun boats and police fast boats to patrol the municipal waters and portions of our EEZ in the WPS,” said Esperon.
“We reiterate that the Philippines shall continue to defend its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, and shall not yield an inch of our territory,” he added.