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Philippines protests hundreds of Chinese ships swarming West Philippine Sea reef
This March 7, 2021 photo shows Chinese maritime militia ships moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
NTF-WPS via Philippine Coast Guard

Philippines protests hundreds of Chinese ships swarming West Philippine Sea reef

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - March 22, 2021 - 7:42am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest following a report that around 220 Chinese militia ships have been moored near a reef in the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday night said he fired off a protest over the presence of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.

The coral reef, which is well within the country's EEZ and continental shelf, is located northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

This March 7, 2021 photo shows Chinese maritime militia ships moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
NTF-WPS via Philippine Coast Guard

The country's top diplomat confirmed that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. recommended the filing of the diplomatic protest.

"I got the coordinates, so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, “Fire at will.” Shell should be flying at first light. I don’t usually announce maneuvers but it seems everybody is baring his chest," Locsin tweeted Sunday night.

Locsin earlier said he was waiting for an order from Esperon and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana before making a move.

Incursion, militarization

Lorenzana, meanwhile, accused China of "incursion," saying that the presence of Chinese militia boats in the reef is a "clear provocative action of militarizing the area."

"We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory," Lorenzana said in a statement Sunday night.

Emphasizing that the area is well within Philippine EEZ and continental shelf, the defense chief stressed that Filipinos have the sole right to its resources under international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling.

China continues to ignore the arbitral ruling, which invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

Lorenzana added that his agency is coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and the DGA for appropriate action.

Further validation

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, said it would conduct sovereignty patrols to "further validate the report."

The report released Saturday also came from the government, particularly the NTF-WPS and the PCG.

AFP spokesperson MGen. Edgard Arevalo on Sunday said the report would be made bases for appropriate actions not limited to diplomatic protests.

"The AFP will not renege from our commitment to protect and defend our maritime interest within the bounds of the law," Arevalo said.

The NTF-WPS has expressed concern over the presence of Chinese militia boats due to "possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation."

CHINA DELFIN LORENZANA DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS DIPLOMATIC PROTEST HERMOGENES ESPERON JR. SOUTH CHINA SEA TEODORO LOCSIN JR. WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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