The Philippine Navy is set to deploy additional ships for conducting increased maritime sovereignty patrols in the portion of the South China Sea that falls within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claimed by Manila.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana said the deployment order was given after more than 200 fishing vessels believed to be operated by the Chinese maritime militia were sighted by Philippine aerial and maritime patrols near Whitsun Reef in the West Philippine Sea some 175 nautical miles off Palawan province earlier this month.
Sobejana clarified that, even as additional navy ships will be deployed for patrols, discussions are ongoing between AFP representatives and their counterparts in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regarding the disposition of the fishing vessels that had massed near the reef, which is claimed by both the Philipines and China.
The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) has requested that the Chinese vessels leave the reef. However, senior PLA officials have reiterated Beijing’s claims that the vessels are manned not by militia personnel but by ordinary fishermen who were compelled to seek shelter near the reef due to inclement weather in the area.
The Philippine Coast Guard had earlier stated that the Chinese vessels have not engaged in actual fishing activities at any time since first being sighted near the reef. This has led officials of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) to suspect that the Chinese crews may possibly be engaged in overfishing and endangering both the marine environment and the safety of navigation in the surrounding waters.
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