The Philippines has been deploying military aircraft to monitor the situation off the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea following sightings of Chinese militia boats in the area, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday.
“We send aircraft every day to that. Our naval patrols need not be (sent) there to monitor,” Lorenzana said in a message.
He said air patrols are more efficient in monitoring and observing objects on the sea.
“Observing from the air is easier, quicker, and more accurate,” he added.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, on Thursday said more naval vessels are deployed to bolster maritime sovereignty patrols off the West Philippine Sea.
This came as 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 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 European Union and New Zealand were the latest to join calls to preserve a rules-based order in the South China Sea following the reported “lingering” presence of Chinese fishing vessels in the area.
Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States earlier expressed concern over actions that may raise tensions in the disputed waters.
China, however, maintained that these vessels are only “seeking shelter” in the area.
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.