PCG sends vessel to Philippine Rise

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
PCG sends vessel to Philippine Rise
Philippine coast guard patrol boat Gabriela Silang (L) and US coast guard ship Stratton (R) take part in a maritime exercise with Japan in the South China Sea off Mariveles, Bataan province on June 6, 2023.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Amid reports that two Chinese research ships were spotted in the Philippine Rise, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) yesterday deployed one of its biggest vessels, the BRP Gabriela Silang, to conduct a maritime domain awareness patrol in the area.

In a statement, PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said their 83-meter offshore patrol vessel would be sent to the Philippine Rise, previously called Benham Rise, on Monday to check on the two reported Chinese research vessels.

The Gabriela Silang will also conduct a patrol and maritime domain awareness in the vicinity. By doing so, the Coast Guard will be able to intensify its presence in Northern Luzon.

“We will be conducting a routine patrol at Benham Rise, upon the orders of our Commandant, Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan… It just so happened that there was a report of Chinese research ships loitering so we might as well check if they are there, and if there are any movements (or activities), then we will monitor,” Balilo told The STAR.

According to reports, however, the two Chinese research vessels were only passing through and were already outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

When asked what the PCG would do if it chanced upon a foreign vessel at the Philippine Rise, Balilo said they would ask why it was in the area.

“If it was just passing through, there is no need to ask,” he said.

Balilo added that during the routine patrol, the Gabriela Silang would be following the patrol route in northwestern Luzon, from Batanes to Philippine Rise.

It will also monitor the activities of the Filipino fishermen at Philippine Rise, which is said to be a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau, located near Aurora, and rich in biodiversity and fish stocks. It is also believed to be potentially a rich source of natural gas and other resources such as heavy metals.

Balilo said the air assets of their Coast Guard Aviation Force are also on standby for possible augmentation and to conduct aerial surveillance, if necessary.

In an interview with radio dzBB, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said the artificial island building – and most actions taken by China – is aimed at controlling the South China Sea.

“Let us look back at what China has done in the West Philippine Sea, and we see that these are not normal actions of a country. Since 1992 when we first saw Chinese markers, until 1994, 1995, wherein we were prohibited from entering Mischief (Panganiban) Reef, and then China began establishing fisherman shelters which eventually became garrisons,” Trinidad said.

“And then they started reclaiming in 2011 or 2012, and have placed equipment that are best used for war. So, these actions over the years would tell us that the real intent of China is control of the South China Sea,” he added.

National Security Council assistant director general Jonathan Malaya said yesterday that the two Chinese vessels spotted in Philippine Rise did not ask permission to conduct explorations.

Malaya noted that they may recommend to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) the filing of a diplomatic protest if proven that the vessels were exploring.

“The Philippines is the only country that has rights over that area. They do not have the right to conduct research or exploration there without the consent of the Philippine government,” he said.

Collective responsibility

“For the South China Sea, and the seas and oceans of the Indo-Pacific to be unifying domains of peace, stability and prosperity, we need to gather more strongly around a collective responsibility, as well as a shared sense of stewardship,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said during the Maritime Cooperation Forum on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne.

“We pursue and honor mutually beneficial arrangements, including with Australia, as part of our duty to strengthen the rules-based security architecture and preserve regional and global peace, security and stability,” Manalo said. “The Philippines considers this a duty that is sacred as being a founding member of the United Nations and ASEAN.” — Delon Porcalla, Pia Lee-Brago

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