MANILA, Philippines – The Area Task Force West of the National Task Force for West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Tuesday said it has launched intensified inter-agency maritime operations in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the Area Task Force West said this is part of the measures they are taking in addressing the recent development of the maritime situation in the West Philippine Sea through a more extensive and collaborative effort among its member agencies.
The task force said the intensified maritime operations include the deployment of government sea assets to various areas in the contested waters to conduct sovereignty patrols and other operations.
“Sea assets are and shall be continuously deployed to different areas in the WPS to conduct maritime and sovereignty patrols, and other law enforcement activities, including the Julian Felipe Reef, Pag-asa Cay, Recto Bank, and other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG),” it added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through its Western Command has deployed four Philippine Navy vessels, namely BRP Dagupan City (LS 551), BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS 36), BRP Magat Salamat (PS 20), and BRP Miguel Malvar (PS 19).
The said ships are also providing support and assistance to the Philippine Coast Guard, which has deployed BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409), and to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which sent two more ships in the area.
“These inter-agency efforts are very essential in the way we address the national concerns in the WPS. The ATF-West shall continue to do so to ensure that our government forces and agencies will be able to collaborate, complement, and support each other in performing respective mandates in support to national policy and strategy,” said chairman of ATF-West Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez.
The ATF-West also urged all Filipinos to know and understand their role, and to take their part in the nation’s stake in the WPS so that “through the whole-of-nation efforts, the national interests and security will be safeguarded for the present and future generation of the Filipino people.”
The intensified maritime operations in the West Philippine Sea follow the recent escalation of disputes over the resource-rich waters in March after the Philippine military spotted more than 200 Chinese boats at the Julian Felipe Reef.
China claimed that the area is part of its traditional fishing ground and that the vessels there were not maritime militia vessels but fishing boats that were only seeking temporary shelter due to rough sea conditions.
The Philippine government, however, insisted that Julian Felipe Reef is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and lies in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of the Philippines. It is located 175 nautical miles west of Batarza town in Palawan and 638,229 nautical miles from Hainan Island.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly fired off diplomatic protests and called for the immediate withdrawal of the vessels. China, however, refused the appeals.