By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz
MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has spotted over 100 alleged Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy corvette, and two China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels throughout a seven-day maritime patrol in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
In a statement on Friday, the PCG said the patrol was made by two 44-meter PCG vessels — BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo — from April 18 to 24 in the waters off Sabina Shoal, Iroquis Reef, Lawak, Patag, Likas, Parola, Pag-asa, Tizzard Bank, Julian Felipe Reef, and Ayungin Shoal.
“Eighteen Chinese maritime militia vessels were detected near Sabina Shoal. Despite the numerous radio challenges by the two PCG vessels, the CMM did not respond or comply with the order to leave the area immediately,” according to the PCG statement.
Four CMM vessels engaging in fishing activities, it said, were later driven away from the sea of Pag-asa.
On the other hand, at least 17 groups of CMM vessels — estimated to exceed 100 vessels– were observed around Julian Felipe Reef.
In response, the PCG vessels deployed their rigid hull inflatable boats to disperse the large CMM gathering.
“However, no CMM vessels reacted or made any attempts to vacate the area,” it said.
On April 21, the PCG was challenged by a PLA Navy vessel with bow number 549 over the radio and directed them to leave the area.
“The Chinese navy issued a warning to the PCG, suggesting that failure to comply might cause problems,” it said.
The PCG vessels responded by asserting their rights to carry out operations within the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island and asked the Chinese navy vessel to leave the area immediately.
On April 23, the two PCG vessels were intercepted by two CCG vessels in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal.
“CCG vessels 5201 and 4202 exhibited aggressive tactics towards BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo, respectively. CCG vessel 5201 was reported to have carried out dangerous maneuvers near BRP Malapascua, maintaining a perilous distance of only 50 yards,” the statement said.
On the other hand, CCG vessel 4202 followed BRP Malabrigo at a distance of 700 yards to monitor its movements.
“The PCG has already submitted a report to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea, highlighting the presence of a Chinese warship, the continued appearance of alleged CMM vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as well as the aggressive actions of the CCG against PCG vessels,” it said.
It assured the public that the PCG is working closely with the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Area Task Force-West to defend the country’s sovereign rights in territorial waters.
“[We] diligently and tirelessly work together to protect the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights in its EEZ, its sovereignty, territory, and continental shelf in the WPS,” the PCG statement added.
In a press briefing also on Friday, Senator Jinggoy Estrada lauded the PCG for not backing down despite the more superior Chinese vessels and said he plans to conduct an ocular inspection in the disputed area in June.
Estrada had earlier filed Senate Bill No. 2016 or the PCG Modernization Act, saying it is high time for the armed service be upgraded in terms of logistical support.
He said PCG assets are not enough to patrol the country’s territorial waters and protect Filipino fisherfolk against foreign aggressors.
“The PCG is vested with powers to perform five major functions of maritime safety, security, search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental protection. With the colossal task of enforcing regulations in accordance with maritime international conventions, treaties, and national laws within the country’s jurisdiction, surely a fleet of merely three offshore patrol vessels would not suffice to carry out their perilous and critical tasks,” he said in a previous statement. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)