The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to monitor the situation off Julian Felipe Reef (Union Reef) in the West Philippine Sea which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone, due to the presence of Chinese militia boats, its chief said Sunday night.
“The reef is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone therefore we oppose any move of encroachment in this sovereign territory,” AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.
He said the military continues to monitor the situation “in abidance to international laws and the preservation of the status quo in the West Philippine Sea,” adding that their priority is the protection of Filipino citizens, especially fishermen in the area, through increased maritime patrols.
The West Philippine Sea is the name given by the Philippines to portions of the South China Sea in the country’s waters.
He said the AFP would continue to pursue a “peaceful, principled, and rules-based approach” in resolving issues in the West Philippine Sea.
“We will defer to the decision of the Department of National Defense and Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the matter,” Sobejana said.
Following the latest incursion, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Sunday night.
“Diplomatic protest fired off tonight; can’t wait for first light,” Locsin said in a tweet.
“So recommended by General Esperon this noon by Whats App. I got the coordinates, so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, ‘Fire at will.’ Shell should be flying at first light. I don’t usually announce maneuvers but it seems everybody is baring his chest,” he added in another tweet.
Earlier, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) expressed concern about a Philippine Coast Guard report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
“The NTF WPS notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” the NTF WPS said.
The reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.