Despite the diplomatic protest filed by the Philippines, the Chinese vessels that were earlier spotted at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea still remain there as of Monday.
Reconnaissance flights led by the military’s Western Command (Wescom) on Monday showed the Chinese vessels were still in the area, some 175 nautical miles of Bataraza town, Palawan province and well within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“They’re still there and we’re counting carefully,” Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters.
It was the Philippine Coast Guard that first spotted the Chinese vessels last March 7 in the area, placing the number at 220. The PCG showed the Chinese vessels were “believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel” because they were in line formation.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
For its part, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said the reef where the ships were spotted was part of China’s Nansha Qundao, one of two political districts in the South China Sea established by the Chinese last year that the Philippines protested.
“Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation. It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner,” said the embassy.
It added the vessels were also seeking shelter from bad weather.
“It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under circumstances,” the Chinese Embassy said.