THE National Task Force (NTF) West Philippine Sea monitored around 45 Chinese maritime militia vessels in the Pagasa Island, which is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), National Security Adviser and NTF chairman Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Esperon said they have monitored the aggressive deployment of Chinese vessels in the said area over the past week.

“Very aggressive sila (They are very aggressive) so we are protesting that because that is part of our EEZ and those are low tide elevations, tulad ng (just like) Mischief Reef, so nobody is supposed to be there, it is within our EEZ,” he said.

“Some of them remain there, hindi sila umaalis dyan, maaring mabawasan but last week umabot sila ng 45 (Chinese vessels), masyadong marami. Dati rati below 20,” he added

(Some of them remain there, they never leave, maybe they will be reduced. Last week, it reached 45 Chinese vessels and that is a lot. Before, we can only spot around 20 vessels)

Esperon made the statement as he condemned the November 16 incident in Ayungin Shoal where three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water-cannoned two Philippine boats while on their way to deliver food supplies to soldiers stationed there.

He said two blocked Filipino vessels, while the other water-cannoned them for an hour.

The troops then maneuvered and aborted their resupply mission.

“But previous to that for almost one-week nagtaka kami, unusual ‘yung presence nila sa Ayungin there were about, usual dyan mga dalawang Chinese Maritime Militia lang pero for the last week merong 19,” said Esperon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier issued outrage, condemnation and protest over the incident, maintaining that the area is a part of the Philippine territory.

Esperon said they are hoping the Chinese will heed the call of the government for them to back off.

“We will not send the Navy, perhaps the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries, naka-standby na yan... to support and of course enforce fisheries laws dun sa Ayungin,” he said.

The DFA had repeatedly filed diplomatic protests against China and even summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian amid sightings of Chinese vessels in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s legal basis for its expansive claim over 90 percent of the South China Sea, which includes the smaller West Philippine Sea, before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

The arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines in a decision issued in 2016.

China rejected the ruling and maintained ownership of the territory.