PHL deploys more warships to boost sea patrols in WPS
THE Philippines has deployed additional ships to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to boost its maritime patrols amid the tense security situation borne by the presence of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef, which a Southeast Asian expert see as both a pressure and test for President Duterte.
The Area Task Force-west under the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the Coast Guard’s BRP Cabra; the Navy’s BRP Dagupan City, BRP Apolinario Mabini, BRP Magat Salamat and BRP Miguel Malvar and two more ships from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) are already in the WPS for inter-agency maritime operations.
“These inter-agency efforts are very essential in the way we address the national concerns in the WPS,” said ATF-WEST Chairman Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto. “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.”
Roberto said assets would 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
OPPOSITION Sen. Risa Hontiveros pressed anew on Tuesday an earlier demand for China to “completely vacate” the Julian Felipe Reef well within the WPS territory, lamenting that China is “becoming the region’s biggest bully.”
“We cannot allow ourselves to be kicked out of our own backyard,” Hontiveros stressed, asserting, “the West Philippine Sea is part of the patrimony of the Filipino people. Above and beyond considerations of access to resources, diplomacy and geopolitics, our national dignity is at stake.”
In a news statement, the senator protested “China’s increasingly aggressive territorial expansion” in the West Philippine Sea, citing latest situation report from the Armed Forces of the Philippines that there are still 28 Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef.
“We demanded that every single Chinese vessel leaves Philippine territory,” Hontiveros recalled. “Why are they still there? China is becoming the region’s biggest bully,” she said, denouncing that China had also “exploited a global health crisis by executing a series of coordinated incursions into the WPS, and insisting her presence even after several diplomatic actions from our end.”
The senator deplored the latest developments in Julian Felipe Reef “only shows how China will do what she wants for her own selfish interest, even if it means threatening peace and stability in the region; even if it means attacking already vulnerable countries, including the Philippines.”
ON Sunday, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana said that at least 28 ships from China’s Coast Guard and maritime militia, including fishing vessels, are still in the country’s maritime waters that China is disputing. He did not however say how many ships are still moored in Julian Felipe Reef.
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, however, said on Saturday that at least 32 Chinese maritime militia vessels are still berthed around Julian Felipe, from 44 just a week earlier.
At least 222 militia ships were seen anchored at the reef on March 7, but most of them have dispersed three weeks later and redeployed in various parts of the WPS and Kalayaan Island Group.
Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor with the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the presence of Chinese militia ships in Julian Felipe Reef was a test of leadership for President Duterte that was designed by China to pressuring him to make a choice between Beijing and the West.
It was also crafted to disrupt the Us-philippines alliance and show President Duterte that the US has “no strategy to alter the status quo,” or Beijing’s “dominance and presence” in the South China Sea.
Thayer told Manila-based journalists working for foreign news agencies that an assertive China has become the US’S greatest competitor that is potentially capable of combining “economic, diplomatic, military and technological power” to mount an American-led international system.
He said the military advantage of the US over Beijing has gone down as the People’s Liberation Army fields much improved assets and weaponry, adding that the greatest danger for the US is its erosion of combat-credible conventional deterrence.
“Without credible conventional deterrence, China will be emboldened to undermine international order and our values for free and open Indo-pacific,” Thayer said.
He declared that the balance of military forces in the Indo-pacific is becoming more “unfavorable” to the US and raises the risk that Beijing will be emboldened to alter the status quo that may also cover Taiwan and the entire South China Sea.
Thayer said the Philippines must equip and develop itself into an agile and joint fighting force in order to hamper China’s momentum with the help of the US and its regional allies. whose sovereignty is also challenged by China.