MANILA: The Department of National Defense (DND) has directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to beef up its presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) following Chinese activities monitored near Pag-asa Island.
In a statement Thursday, the DND said any encroachment or reclamation on the features in the WPS is a threat to Pag-asa Island which is part of the country’s territory.
“Any encroachment in the WPS or reclamation on the features therein is a threat to the security of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Philippine sovereign territory,” it added.
The DND also said such actions also endangers the marine environment and undermines the stability of the region.
“We strongly urge China to uphold the prevailing rules-based international order and refrain from acts that will exacerbate tensions in the WPS and the larger South China Sea,” the statement read.
Chinese militia vessels spotted
Meanwhile, Wescom, in a separate statement Thursday, said its regular naval and air patrols have observed the persistent presence of China militia vessels in three locations in the WPS.
“They were spotted in namely Pag-asa Cay 1 (Sandy Cay), Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), and Panata Island (Lankiam Cay),” it added.
All activities and development in those areas are reported to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) for an appropriate response.
“Wescon shall continue conducting maritime patrols and sustaining our presence in the WPS to protect our nation’s territory and sovereign rights,” it added.
Earlier, DND officer-in-charge Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. expressed alarm over the reported swarming of Chinese ships off Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the WPS but maintained that they will not give up any part of the country’s territory and will continue with its regular maritime and air patrols.
“The DND views with great concern the reported swarming of Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the WPS,” he said in a statement on Dec. 14.
Another incident which took place last Nov. 20 involved the China Coast Guard reportedly interfering with efforts of Western Command personnel to recover an unidentified floating object spotted near Pag-asa Island.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has denied reports that Beijing is carrying out new reclamation activities in some unoccupied features within the Spratlys in South China Sea.
Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Beijing started building up several land features in the unoccupied northern part of Spratlys, citing unnamed Western officials.
In a presser on Dec. 21, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning described the report as “completely untrue” and stressed that Beijing strictly abides by the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea.
“The Bloomberg report is completely untrue. Refraining from action on the presently uninhabited islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands is a serious common understanding reached by China and ASEAN countries in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and China always strictly abides by it,” Mao said, referring to the Spratlys.
“The growth of China-Philippines relations currentlyenjoys sound momentum and the two sides will continue to properly handle maritime issues through friendly consultations,” she added.
Under the 2002 DOC, China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to exercise “self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features”.
Source: Philippines News Agency