Navy ready to support PCG patrols in West Philippine Sea

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
Navy ready to support PCG patrols in West Philippine Sea
The Philippine Coast Guard held a send-off ceremony for BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan, which will patrol the West Philippine Sea and Sulu Sea.
PCG / Released

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines has reassured the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that the military, primarily through the Philippine Navy, is ready to provide more support in patrol operations being carried out in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The AFP described yesterday the latest incident in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal where the China Coast Guard (CCG) harassed and drove away Filipino fishermen as “alarming.”

AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Padilla said, “on the side of the Armed Forces, we will support in however operational way” the PCG in addressing the situation.

“We consider this alarming because… incidents are getting closer. But with the command conference that we had, there was a guidance by the President that we also try to see different approaches to how we handle the situation,” she told reporters at a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo.

According to her, the PCG has already given a statement and has data on the Jan. 12 incident. The Coast Guard is in talks with the concerned fishermen who were allegedly forced to return the seashells they harvested for food.

The CCG personnel aboard a rubber boat allegedly went as far as approaching the Philippine fishing vessels and demanding that the catch be returned to the sea before forcing the fishermen to leave.

Padilla said Navy patrols in the West Philippine Sea are done regularly but noted that the WPS, which China is claiming ownership of almost in its entirety including waters inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, is a vast area to guard.

“We will fortify our missions accordingly,” she announced, adding that the AFP assures the public “that we are regularly doing our operations in our territorial waters.”

Asked what steps would be taken following the latest act of harassment by the CCG, she said the military will look into it and let the Northern Luzon Command take the lead on what actions to pursue.

With weaker internal threats, Padilla said the AFP now has more assets to put into territorial defense as it continues to modernize.

Changes on how things are handled can be expected in the coming months based on President Marcos’ directives that the military be creative and find new ways to approach the WPS problem.

For his part, National Security Council assistant director general Jonathan Malaya called on China to walk the talk when it comes to its alleged efforts to lessen tension in the West Philippine Sea following recent bilateral consultative meetings between Manila and Beijing.

He said the latest incident in Bajo de Masinloc is alarming and disappointing.

“Maybe we can request China this 2024 since they are also having Chinese New Year, that their actions on the ground match what we’ve discussed, ”Malaya said in the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon public briefing.

“Moving forward, I hope what has been talked about is implemented,” he said, noting that it is not in the interest of the Philippines nor of China that tensions rise this year.

No government presence in Panatag

Philippine Coast Guard-West Philippine Sea spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela admitted that there was no PCG or Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel patrolling Panatag Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) when the China Coast Guard allegedly harassed some Filipino fishermen last Jan. 12.

In an interview with dzBB, Tarriela said at the time the CCG allegedly harassed the Filipino fishermen collecting taktakun shells from Panatag, there were no PCG or BFAR ships present because of rotational deployment.

“To be honest, during that particular incident of Jan. 12, there was no presence of the national government, whether the PCG or the BFAR,” he said, however emphasizing that President Marcos’ guidance was to ensure presence in the area.

The official explained that given the limited number of ships of the PCG with its many responsibilities, as well of BFAR, they were unable to conduct a 24/7 patrol at Panatag Shoal.

This, he said, is one of the realizations of the Philippine government – the need to strengthen its presence in order to protect the welfare of Filipino fishermen.

Tarriela suggested a “complementing deployment” between PCG and BFAR. “In instances when there is no presence of the PCG because of rotational deployment, then maybe the BFAR can take over” and vice versa, he said.

Meanwhile, this year’s first rotation and resupply (RORE) mission to deliver provisions to soldiers stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal has been put on hold due to unavailability of supply boats.

The military nevertheless gave assurance that food and other basic needs will be sent to troops as soon as “technical difficulties” are resolved.

“Until such time that we determine that the vessels to be used are seaworthy, that’s the time that we can reschedule the RORE mission,” AFP’s Padilla told reporters yesterday.

She admitted that this year’s first resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal was supposed to be carried out over the weekend.

But because the smaller supply vessels to be used encountered technical difficulties, she said the RORE mission had to be cancelled. She did not elaborate on what these problems were.

Asked if troops on the Sierra Madre would run out of provisions, Padilla said soldiers are trained for any eventuality and will find ways, which may include fishing. — Evelyn Macairan

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