PH intensifies sovereignty patrols in West Philippine Sea

Robie de Guzman   •   April 13, 2021   •   385

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.

Esperon assures following Duterte’s orders in defending West PH Sea

Aileen Cerrudo   •   May 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — National Security Adviser and Chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea Sec. Hermogenes Esperon said they will follow President Rodrigo Duterte’s orders in defending the West Philippine Sea.

The President previously said that he will not back down and will not order the retreat of the two vessels that the country deployed in patrolling the Kalayaan Islands and the Mischief Reef.

“Hindi talaga ako aatras. Patayin mo man ako kung patayin mo ako, dito ako. Dito magtatapos ang ating pagkakaibigan,” he said during a public address.

(I will not back down. Kill me, I will be here. This is where our friendship ends.)

In a separate interview in Politiscoop, Esperon said they are prepared to follow the President’s orders which includes deploying military ships in case there is an excavation of natural gas in the disputed islands.

“May utos na po ang pangulo natin diyan. Alam na natin gagawin diyan,” he said.

(The President has a directive. We already know what to do.)

Esperon also noted that the country is using satellite technology to monitor unauthorized sea vessels entering the country’s territory.

He added that the task force, in coordination with the Philippine Space Agency, aims to boost the country’s satellite technology.

“Actually mayroon tayong nova satellite diyan run by the Philippine Space Agency at pinapalawig pa natin ang ating kakayahan tungkol sa satellite. For now ang ginagamit na ay ang flight maritime patrols, sovereign patrols ng Air Force ng navy,” he said.

(Actually, we have a nova satellite run by the Philippine Space Agency and we are still expanding our capability with regards to the satellite. For now, we are using flight maritime patrols, the sovereign patrols of the Air Force.)

Amid the tension between the disputed islands, the President reiterated that the country is avoiding any conflict in the region. But he said that China should still respect the country’s position on the issue. AAC (with reports from Nel Maribojoc)

1 dead, 3 hurt in military clash with Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu

Robie de Guzman   •   May 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member was killed while three soldiers were injured in a gunfight in Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) said Friday.

In a statement, the AFP-WestMincom said the encounter between the ASG and the operating forces of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu occurred early morning Friday in Barangay Kagay, Indanan.

The bandits fled the scene after the firefight that lasted for five minutes.

JTF Sulu commander Major General William Gonzales identified the slain ASG member as Arab Undo, one of the remaining followers of the slain ASG senior leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.

Authorities recovered from the clash site one cal. 45 pistol, one backpack, a solar panel, personal belongings, and food items.

Meanwhile, the three soldiers who were wounded in the encounter were brought to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for medical attention. They are now in stable condition.

“Pursuit and blockade are being conducted by the Joint Task Force Sulu to thwart the extrication of the local terrorists group,” Gonzales said.

“This is another one blow to the ASG and we hope we could be able to neutralize the remaining members of the terrorist group the soonest,” he added.

Duterte invites Juan Ponce Enrile to discuss West Philippine Sea issue

Robie de Guzman   •   May 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will seek the counsel of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea dispute.

In a taped speech aired on Friday, Duterte said he has invited Enrile to join his meeting with Cabinet officials on Monday, May 17, to discuss the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.

“We have respectfully invited Senator Enrile to come here kasi hindi man ako puwedeng makalabas na mag-usap,” he said.

“Pakinggan natin siya. Huwag na tayong — hindi na ako magsalita. Makikinig lang ako sa kanya kasi siya ‘yong — he was there right at the beginning,” he added.

Duterte said he would be all ears if the former lawmaker and a shrewd lawyer were to discuss the West Philippine issue with him.

“Sa kanya ako makinig kasi sa kanya ako bilib sa utak at pag-intindi nitong problema itong ating West Philippine Sea,” he said.

The president expressed hope that the 97-year old Enrile would accept his invitation.

Duterte did not say his reasons for consulting Enrile on the matter, but the former senator had previously expressed support for the Duterte administration’s diplomatic way of dealing with the maritime dispute. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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