THE Western Command (Wescom) expressed on Thursday, September 14, 2023, concern over the resurgence of swarming activities of China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
In a statement, the Wescom said that during the aerial patrols conducted on September 6 and 7, 23 Chinese fishing vessels (CFVs) were observed in Rozul (Iroquios) Reef, five in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal and two in Baragatan (Nares) Bank.
Wescom said the Rozul Reef, which is within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, is the “most prominent” location of heightened Chinese swarming activity in the WPS, noting that a previous incident reported by the Philippine Navy on August 24 revealed that 33 CFVs were spotted in the same area.
The Escoda Shoal, which is also located within the Philippine EEZ and serves as a marker for the approach to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, is where unauthorized Chinese shadowing of Philippine watercraft typically occurs.
It said that such intrusion is a continuous violation of the Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
“The increased presence of CFVs raises concerns regarding the potential implications for Philippines' maritime security, fisheries conservation, territorial integrity, and preservation of the marine environment. These activities have been a source of tension in the WPS and have contributed to instability in the region,” the Wescom said, further noting that previous swarming incidents in the area have also been followed by reports of massive coral harvesting.
Wescom assured, though, that they will continue to be vigilant and take necessary measures to safeguard the country’s vital national interests and maintain stability in the region in coordination with other defense forces, law enforcement agencies, and international partners.
On August 5, Chinese vessels prevented a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre by bombarding Philippine ships with water.
Since the incident, which was condemned by various countries, two resupply missions have been conducted successfully by the Philippines.
China refused to recognize the arbitral ruling, which affirms the Philippine’s rights over the WPS. (SunStar Philippines)