Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Gen. Restituto Padilla broached the idea after the military affirmed reports of the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). AP/Bullit Marquez, File

AFP urges gov’t: Raise Chinese incursions in WPS
(The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - The military wants to bring Chinese incursions at sandbars in the West Philippine Sea before the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM).

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Gen. Restituto Padilla broached the idea after the military affirmed reports of the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“We will work to clarify all of these things and there is a mechanism that is built-in in our current relationship, which is called the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism, that has already been initiated before,” Padilla said.

The BCM was formed by the Philippines and China to address concerns in the disputed seas.

The first BCM was held last May in Guiyang, China – the venue chosen by President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Through the BCM, both parties can raise issues surrounding the maritime claims in a bid to avoid violent confrontation between the two countries.

“It would be best to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) what happened to this mechanism because this is the proper forum to address those issues,” Padilla said.

Earlier, the DFA reported that a second meeting is forthcoming within the year where the Philippines can further bring its concerns. 

Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana has said the BCM is a good venue to talk about possible areas of cooperation aimed at building mutual trust and confidence between Philippines and China.

Padilla said the AFP is in the process of looking further into the report of Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano who exposed the presence of Chinese boats in the area.

“We did receive word from the camp of Congressman Alejano regarding the presence of Chinese ships. There have been a lot of fisherman from our side who have been fishing in our waters over there,” Padilla said.

“And I think the bone of contention was regarding the presence of some of our fisherman in some of those areas because the Chinese are there also,” he said.

Alejano claimed there are two Chinese naval vessels, two fishing ships and a Chinese Coast Guard ship operating around Pag-asa Island since Aug. 12. 

He added the Chinese have a sinister plan to occupy the sandbars in the area.

Padilla however assured the public that the matter is now being addressed but he has yet to confirm the number of ships spotted in the area.

The AFP’s Western Mindanao Command has been tasked to check out the report to ensure the Filipino fisherman are “well and protected.”

“Now, we will file our ongoing and continuing protest for any of these movements, and the foreign affairs department will see to that,” Padilla added.

“We file diplomatic protest whenever we have sightings close to our areas. Especially this one,” he said.

As this developed, the US government is set to donate an unmanned radar blimp to the Philippine Navy to enhance its intelligence gathering and disaster response operations.

US Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Klecheski will hand over the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) – a self-sustained, unmanned lighter-than-air systems – to Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado on Monday.

The turnover ceremony will be held at the Naval Education and Training Command in San Antonio, Zambales.

In a statement, the US embassy said the radar is expected to enhance the Navy’s capability in maritime intelligence surveillance reconnaissance by effectively detecting maritime and air traffic within the country’s coastal waters using sensors.

It will also be utilized in the conduct of humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

The TARS also includes a weather station that provides telemetry data to the ground station for the monitoring of ambient temperature, pressure, wind, speed and other pertinent parameters in the operation of the system. – Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude, Helen Flores

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