Thursday, May 09, 2013

Two Chinese vessels reportedly sighted off disputed islands in West Philippine Sea

Two Chinese vessels were reportedly spotted near one of the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, a source said. 

One frigate ship was seen five nautical miles east of Ayungin Reef while another--a Chinese Naval Patrol Vessel--was spotted six nautical miles east of the same island, a senior military officer who refused to be named said. 

Last week, a report quoting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China asked the Philippines to withdraw all its assets in the disputed islands, specifically those being claimed by China including the Ayungin Reef.

In 1990s, the Philippines intentionally grounded its naval vessel BRP Sierra Madre in the area. It now serves as outpost of the Philippine troops in the area, to strengthen its claim over the island.

A group of 11 Chinese vessels in line formation were also seen around Kalayaan Island Group last month, the same officer said. 

Considered to be fishing vessels, these vessels had already entered the territory of the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan, a municipality composed of 7 islets and three reefs located in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“We’re informed through fishermen who fled the maritime area this morning after the arrival of the Chinese vessels,” another officer said in a separate interview. 

KIG is composed of the islands of Pagasa, Likas, Parola, Lawak, Kota, Patag, and Panta and three reefs called Rizal, Balagtas, and Ayungin.

The center of KIG’s political power is in Pagasa with less than 400 civilian inhabitants together military personnel. The island has a dilapidated airstrip.   

The town is led by Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

"I think this is part of China's intimidation and bullying of sorts [against] the Philippines. The Philippine Government should take it seriously," the officer said.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Cherryl Tindog of the AFP Western Command confirmed that they have received reports about the sightings but are still verifying the information. 

In Camp Aguinaldo, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said the military leadership is closely monitoring the situation as the Western Command (Westcom) and its naval unit, the Naval Forces West Command (NAVFORWEST), have been alerted on the situation.

The Westcom is led by Major. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

“[The command has to] intensify its [patrol] and monitoring to verify the truthfulness of the reports,” he said after the AFP’s “Battle Staff” meeting held in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.-Interaksyon

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