18 Chinese maritime ships operating within Philippine territory

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - About 18 Chinese vessels are intruding into Philippine territory, raising the need to pour more resources to defense spending, a security official said Thursday.

Vicente Agdamag, Deputy Director-General of the National Security Council Secretariat, said the deployment of the ships is in line with China’s aim to consolidate its control over the West Philippine Sea.

“Right now, there are 18 maritime surveillance ships operating in our area,” Agdamag said during the Air Force’s Air Power Symposium 2013 in Pasay City.

Related story: Chinese general reveals 'strategy' for Panatag takeover

Agdamag did not say what types of ships were deployed and where they are located. He, however, enumerated incidents showcasing China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

These include the imposition by China of an “exclusion zone” in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales province.

“Lately, we received reports that surveillance ships are imposing a 24-kilometer wide ban on the fishing area so in fact, they are imposing an exclusion zone already in Bajo de Masinloc,” Agdamag said.

Chinese occupation of the Panatag Shoal began on April 10, 2012, when surveillance vessels from Beijing prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who had poached endangered marine species.

Other incidents enumerated by Agdamag were:

  • The challenging by a Chinese patrol ship of a vessel conducting a survey for Forum Energy about 85 nautical miles off Palawan in March 2011
  • The grounding of a Chinese Navy frigate on Hasahasa Shoal, which is 60 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan on July 11, 2012
  • China’s establishment of Sansha City in Woody Island to exercise administrative control over areas in West Philippine Sea last year. The Woody Island is about 460 nautical miles from Zambales coast
  • China’s announcement in November 2012 that Hainan police would board foreign vessels in disputed areas
  • The harassment by Chinese ships of a vessel carrying Pag-asa Island Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon in November 2012. The mayor and his companions experienced a similar harassment in May 2013
  • The conduct of patrols and training missions of a squadron of three People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessels last February
  • The deployment of modern warships by the PLA last March to carry out training missions in the Bashi Channel
  • The conduct of an eight-day military drill in Spratlys by Chinese forces also last March. One destroyer, two frigates, an amphibious ship, amphibious tanks and land-based fighters participated in the drill
  • The presence of five China law enforcement agency vessels, four China marine surveillance vessels, one fisheries and law enforcement command ship in the southern part of Panatag Shoal last April

Bigger defense spending sought

Agdamag cited the need to hike the budget for defense spending to enable the country to have a minimum deterrent capability, which he defined as a capability that imposes a risk that a hostile force would find unacceptable.

He recommended increasing the investment for defense by 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP is the sum of all products and services produced by an economy in a given period. It indicates the size of an economy.

Agdamag said at present, defense spending is just equivalent to 1.1 percent of the P2.006 trillion national budget.

“We are recommending an additional of 0.5 to one percent not only to be at par with our neighbors and more importantly to develop a modicum of a credible defense capability to protect our maritime and strategic interest,” he said.

“We need to enhance to our security alliance with our allies and our neighbors especially the United States,” he added.

China has been constructing structures in disputed areas to assert its territorial claims, triggering concerns among other claimants in the region.

It has built a military garrison in the Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef, one of the areas being claimed by the Philippines. Mischief Reef, which is about 70 nautical miles from Palawan, has been occupied by China since 1995.

China initially built structures on stilts at the reef, supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen but these were later on converted into a military garrison with powerful radars.

China has also installed a powerful radar station in Subi Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-Asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan Island. The Chinese began constructing the four-story structure, including a lighthouse about seven years ago.

China has also sent ships in the Ayungin Shoal, another Philippine-owned area located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan.

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