Presence of Chinese warships in WPS worrisome – Marcos

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Presence of Chinese warships in WPS worrisome � Marcos
Around 30 Chinese militia vessels and a China Coast Guard ship (lower right photo) are spotted in the vicinity of Sabina and Ayungin Shoals in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday.
Photos courtesy of Commodore Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman for the WPS.

MANILA, Philippines —  The presence of Chinese navy vessels in the West Philippine Sea is “worrisome,” but the Philippines will not be deterred in defending its maritime territory and protecting its fishermen, President Marcos said yesterday.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirmed on Tuesday the presence of Chinese warships and aircraft in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panatag or Scarborough Shoal.

“It’s worrisome because there are two elements to that: one is that previously only China’s Coast Guard was moving in our area. Now, there is navy that has come and the fishing boats,” Marcos told reporters before leaving for a two-day state visit to Canberra, Australia.

“So the situation is changing, but – well, it’s clear for us, we don’t really – we just watch, of course, what everybody is doing, but really for us, we’ll continue, we just defend our maritime territory. We continue to support all of our fishermen, fisherfolk who make their living from these fishing grounds,” he said.

Marcos said the government would continue to patrol Philippine-claimed territories and gave assurance of Filipino fishermen’s continued access to their traditional fishing grounds.

“And despite whatever else happens, we are being blocked, what, there is shadowing, we will continue to do what we do because that is our job, our job is to help the fishermen who have been fishing there for a long time, for several generations,” Marcos said in Filipino and English.

At a public briefing on Tuesday, Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, said during the last mission of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) they were able to monitor the presence of three People’s Liberation Army navy warships in the vicinity of Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.

Tarriela said a Chinese aircraft was also spotted by BFAR patrolling over Panatag.

“This is the first time we have seen a Chinese aircraft patrolling over the airspace of Bajo de Masinloc in the recent time,” Tarriela said.

Maritime zones law

Lauding both houses of Congress for their legislative work, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said the Philippine Maritime Zones Act that has passed third and final reading in the Senate will definitely help enforce the 2016 arbitral award rejecting China’s expansive maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea.

With such a law in place, he said the government can more effectively protect the country’s maritime domain in accordance with both international and domestic rules on territories and maritime boundaries.

“This marks a significant step forward in safeguarding our nation’s maritime interests and asserting our sovereign rights over our maritime domains,” Año said in a statement yesterday.

“Most importantly, this implements in domestic legislation the 2016 arbitral award that the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines,” he stressed.

Año noted that the Philippine Maritime Zones Act “not only reaffirms the country’s sovereign rights over the nation’s exclusive economic zone but also establishes clear guidelines for the delineation of maritime zones, including sea lanes, air routes and the utilization of natural resources within our jurisdiction.”

“The Philippines is an archipelagic and maritime nation, and our seas play a vital role in our economic prosperity and national security,” he said.

Año said the National Security Council thanks the Senate led by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate special committee on maritime and admiralty zones chairman Sen. Francis Tolentino for advancing the passage of Senate Bill 2492 last Monday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also welcomed yesterday Senate approval of the Philippine Maritime Zones Bill, underscoring it is a crucial step for the Philippines to put its archipelagic house in order and to harmonize its domestic law with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The bill codifies the status and regime of the waters inside the archipelagic baselines, redefines the extent of Philippine territorial sea and claims a 24-nautical mile contiguous zone, among others.

“We look forward to its enactment so that the Philippines could effectively enforce its relevant domestic laws and related international laws to protect its marine and fish resources, preserve and conserve its marine environment and enhance maritime safety and security,” the DFA said. – Michael Punongbayan, Pia Lee-Brago

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