DND: China’s latest swarming of WPS features ‘unacceptable’

The Department of National Defense (DND) expressed “great concern” on the reported massive presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Chinese maritine militia vessels are monitored in Sabina Shoal in this satellite image dated Oct. 2, 2022. (Courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative)

“The Department of National Defense views with great concern the reported swarming of Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS),” DND Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr. said on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

The acting Defense chief said their lines “remain open" in case China wants to habe a dialogue and discuss the latest intrusion of their militia vessels in the Philippines' waters.

“However, we maintain that activities which violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, and undermine the peace and stability of the region, are unacceptable,” Faustino emphasized.

In a report released last month by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), it said that “hundreds” of Chinese maritime militia vessels were monitored in several “hot spots” in the South China Sea, including Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in Kalayaan Island Group or Spratly Islands in Palawan.

Courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI)

The United States-based think tank said it analyzed satellite imagery from Sept. 2021 to Sept. 2022 and their data confirmed that “China’s militia in the South China Sea numbers in the hundreds of vessels,” and “the total count of militia vessels deployed to the Spratly Islands and in port peaked at 400 in early July.”

In Iroquois Reef, the AMTI said that around two to 30 vessels were monitored throughout the observation period.

The reef is located around 148 km southwest of Reed Bank or Recto Bank in the Spratly Islands where it is believed to be rich in oil and gas. It is the area where a hydrocarbon exploration by the Philippines was postponed in 2011 due to the harassment of a Philippine vessel by a Chinese vessel, according to AMTI. It is also the same area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where Beijing wants to conduct a joint exploration with Manila.

Meanwhile, an average of 20 vessels were spotted in Sabina Shoal which is located at 123.6 nautical miles from Palawan.

Maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said that China’s presence in the said features in the WPS was “deliberately intended” to discourage Filipino fishermen from earning a livelihood in their traditional fishing grounds within the Philippines’ EEZ, and to block Philippine boats from conducting exploration or resupply mission to military outposts in Lawak Island, Patag Island, and Ayungin Shoal.

Faustino said the DND continues to conduct routine maritime and aerial patrols in the West Philippine Sea as they adhere to Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s directive to never give up even a single square inch of the country’s territory to other nation.

“The Philippines remains committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the West Philippine Sea and the larger South China Sea, and reserves right to deal with any situation that violates or threatens our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Faustino stressed.