By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. (File photo)

MANILA – The United States government has backed the Philippines in expressing alarm over the reported swarming of Chinese vessels off Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

“The reported escalating swarms of PRC (People’s Republic of China) vessels in the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands interfere with the livelihoods of Philippine fishing communities, and also reflect continuing disregard for other South China Sea claimants and states lawfully operating in the region,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday.

Price said Washington DC supports Manila in its continued call on China to respect international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and its legal obligations under the 2016 arbitral ruling.

A recent Inquirer report quoted Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos confirming that dozens of Chinese vessels have been moving closer to Palawan in recent months.

In a statement on December 14, the Department of National Defense said it views the swarming with “great concern” and maintained that the Philippines would not give up a single square inch of its territory.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has yet to respond when asked for comment.

The US had also shared concerns over the unsafe encounter between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard when the latter seized debris that the Navy had fished out of the West Philippine Sea on November 20.

“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in upholding the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, as guaranteed under international law,” Price said. (PNA)