Armed Forces of the Philippines (MNS Photo)

MANILA, Apr 23 (Mabuhay) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is proposing to the government to build structures in the West Philippine Sea to protect the country’s territorial rights amid Chinese incursions.

AFP spokesperson Major General Edgard Arevalo said the proposal was sent to the National Task Force on the West Philippines Sea (NTF WPS), which will make the final decision on the recommendation.

“’Yan po ay nagsisilbing mungkahi natin sa NTF WPS at sila po ang magdedesisyon ultimately… Ang binabalak po natin ay magtayo ng istruktura,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo said the proposal of establishing structures in the West Philippine Sea aims to secure the maritime and sovereign rights of the country as well as the fishing rights and safety of Filipino fisherfolk.

Among the structures that the AFP is intending to build are fisherman shelters, cold storage facilities, and lighthouses, Arevalo said.

Due to some considerations, Arevalo said these are the only planned structures that they can share to the public.

Asked about the chances of building military headquarters in the West Philippine Sea, he said the Philippine Marines has been conducting patrol over nine islets and features where only makeshift constructions were built.

AFP made the proposal following the massing of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

On March 7, around 220 vessels were spotted near the Julian Felipe Reef, located 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Palawan and part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Recently, the NTF WPS reported that 240 Chinese militia vessels are scattered in Philippine territorial waters off Kalayaan in Palawan and are within the country’s EEZ. Aside from these, six vessels of the Chinese navy, including at least three warships, have been spotted in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had demanded for the immediate removal of the Chinese vessels from the Julian Felipe Reef.

The Chinese Embassy claimed that the vessels were only “seeking shelter” near the reef, which they claimed was part of China’s Nansha Islands or Spratlys in the South China Sea.

China has been insisting ownership over nearly the entire South China Sea — a claim debunked by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines.

The Philippines filed diplomatic protests over the presence of Chinese vessels. It has also summoned the Chinese Ambassador to the country to tackle its concerns over the presence of Chinese boats at the Julian Felipe Reef.

China has consistently ignored the arbitral ruling which favored Philippines’ claims over the West Philippine Sea as it maintained its historical claim over the Julian Felipe Reef.

The Chinese government also previously stated that its vessels will not permanently stay at Julian Felipe Reef. It also rejected claims that its fishing vessels were manned by maritime militia.   (MNS)

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