MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) continues to patrol the West Philippine Sea, the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, with Chinese ships spotted leaving the area when challenged , said an official.
This was the response of the PCG commander, Vice Admiral Leopoldo Laroya, when asked about the current situation at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef).
Hundreds of Chinese ships gathered at the said reef at the end of March, which were supposed to be “fishing boats” sheltered from bad weather, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
The Philippine authorities had called their presence an incursion.
A UN-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 rejected China’s claim that it grants historic rights to resources in sea areas falling under its so-called “nine-dash line.”
âAt this time, we maintain a continuous patrol of the western Philippine Sea. As for the Chinese fishing vessels, we have been in contact with some of them and after being duly notified to them they are leaving the area, âLaroya told reporters at a virtual press conference marking the Awareness Month for the Maritime Archipelago Nation.
The official said he did not have specific details on the number and type of Chinese vessels currently in the area and referred the matter to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
He also pledged that the Philippine Coast Guard would continue to ensure the safety of Philippine waters and protect the marine environment.
âMayroong pakaunti-unti, nilalapitan ng Coast Guard, we always maintain a constant patrol in the area. And when challenged they sometimes defy our challenge but in the end they leave. So at the moment we have good cooperation with them, “he added.
(There were some that the Coast Guard approached.)
Meanwhile, Deputy Environment Secretary Analiza Rebuelta-Teh said her agency did not yet have an estimate on the possible presence of methane gas in the Philippine Sea.
Teh added that the DENR is still finalizing plans to conduct an exploration to determine the extent of resources in the area.
The Bureau of Mines and Geosciences, she noted, is still in the process of finalizing the master plan for the project.
“We are still finalizing our plans on how to conduct exploration to determine the extent of resources versus mining, or even the potential of energy resources,” she said.
“I still cannot answer if there is a plan to partner with other countries. But at the moment what we are doing is in our proposed budget for 2022, we are laying the groundwork so that we can acquire the equipment. and the technology to be able to prepare for that exploration. “
MalacaÃ±ang said the Philippine Coast Guard also returned Vietnamese and Chinese ships from the region on June 30. Two months ago, he chased away 7 suspected Chinese Maritime Militia ships near Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
President Rodrigo Duterte refused to put pressure on China to follow the Hague decision overturning its sweeping claims, as it sought investment and loans from the economic superpower.
In May, Duterte called the arbitration award a piece of âpaperâ that belongs in the basket. But that same month, he said he would not remove Filipino ships from the waterway.
Analysts and several countries had previously warned China of its forays into the West Philippine Sea, as it could threaten regional stability.
– Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News