PCG commandant Rear Admiral Elson Hermogino said the patrol would be done in coordination with the Philippine Navy. Philstar.com/File Photo

Coast Guard to conduct patrols in Philippine Rise
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will send a patrol vessel to the Philippine Rise to keep intruders at bay, in compliance with President Duterte’s order that unauthorized foreign vessels be barred from the 13-million- hectare, resource-rich eastern waters.

PCG commandant Rear Admiral Elson Hermogino said the patrol would be done in coordination with the Philippine Navy.

The President’s order came after Chinese ship Ke Xue Hao completed its “scientific research” in the vast Philippine Rise off Aurora.

“We are waiting for official orders… We would be conducting the immediate patrol. We are just awaiting (instructions) from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) since they were the ones that gave clearance for our officers to board the Chinese research vessel as Filipino observers,” Hermogino said.

He did not say if more vessels would be deployed in the future.

“We will definitely deploy in coordination with the Philippine Navy. I have talked to the flag officer-in-command,” he said, referring to Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad.

“It will be a joint or complementary patrol or alternate patrol to ensure the directive of the President” is followed, he added. He stressed the patrol would also be on alert for local vessels engaged in illegal operations.

The PCG official revealed they had long been sending patrols in the area but bad weather would hamper the deployment. He said they might also send aerial patrol – using Islander turboprop aircraft – over the Philippine Rise on a case-to-case basis.

The presence of a Chinese vessel in the Philippine Rise had sparked concerns among some lawmakers and members of the opposition. It turned out the Chinese’ activities in the area had the blessings of President Duterte.

Aside from possessing vast mineral and gas deposits, Philippine Rise is a major source of marine and aquatic resources.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has also highlighted the importance of Philippine Rise as a major food source as its rich and diverse ecosystem attracts migratory commercial fish like tuna, blue marlin and mackerel.

On Wednesday, President Duterte said the Chinese could be counted upon to respect the country’s sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise.

In remarks before rebel returnees at Malacañang on Wednesday, Duterte also allayed fears by some sectors that his decision to allow the Chinese to conduct maritime research in the area might lead to Beijing’s claiming rights over it.

“They’re now saying they recognize sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Philippines. They gave a statement. I have received it,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. also maintained that the Philippines has sovereign rights over the area.

“In the first place Philippine Rise is undisputed. It was awarded to us by the UN Commission on the Extended Continental Shelf. So that award is recognized even by China, it was never disputed by any state, whether be it official, unofficial. China has reiterated that it recognizes our sovereign rights,” Roque said.

When pressed anew about China’s flexing its muscles in the West Philippines Sea, Roque reiterated the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy.

“We are asserting an independent foreign policy. We are not giving out territory, we are protecting our sovereign rights and at the same time, we are doing the best that we can, given our state of preparedness,” he said.

“So, the difference is, we are not willing to be used by other states that want to challenge the dominance, alleged dominance of China in the region, because we have ceased to be a lackey of any other state. We stand on our own,” Roque said.

In an online interview, Roque said the Philippines will have a chance to occupy the disputed islands but only after Beijing leaves them for good.

“There will come a time when China’s might have ceased, when we will have to thank them for the islands because it is only the Philippines that can legally build on those artificial islands,” Roque said.

“Clearly, eventually, those artificial islands will be ours if we can ask China to leave,” he said.

Roque issued the statement following reports that China had finished building infrastructure in the artificial reefs, without so much resistance from the Philippines.

Meanwhile, militant fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas) lashed out at BFAD for declaring the country could share resources from Philippine Rise with China and other countries.- With Christina Mendez, Michelle Zoleta

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