MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has lodged a diplomatic protest against the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that the Department of Foreign Affairs filed the protest.
“I understand that we already issued a diplomatic protest per the (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Western Command,” Panelo said in a press briefing Monday.
Panelo, however, clarified that reports indicating that there were more than 600 Chinese vessels circling the area were not true.
ABS-CBN News earlier reported that over 600 Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratlys, since January.
The ships considered as part of Chinese maritime militia are reportedly occasionally complemented by the Chinese Coast Guard.
“‘Yung total daw ng 600 hindi naman pala totoo ‘yun kasi ang basis ng monitoring ng Western Command ‘yung bow. ‘Yun ‘yung part ng ship ang binibilang nila ang total pala 275 lang,” (The 600 total [Chinese vessels], that’s not true because the basis of monitoring the Western Command is the bow. That’s the part of the ship that was counted, and the total was just 275.), Panelo said.
He added the vessels were not “encircling” the island, but are just there.
Panelo, who is also presidential chief legal counsel, is scheduled to meet with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua Monday afternoon.
The Malacañang spokesman said he will raise the West Philippine Sea issue with the Chinese envoy.
In an interview with CNN Philippines’ “New Day,” Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, confirmed the presence of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island.
“What’s happening is they remain stationary in the area. Some come and go, that’s why it’s quite inaccurate to report the number because some of them come and go. Although some of them stay for a few days or weeks,” Arevalo said.
In February, Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Intitiative reported that China deployed vessels near Pag-asa Asa Island in response to the Philippine government’s efforts to rehabilitate its facilities on the island.
The think tank noted that Chinese vessels in the area have increased since the Philippines started the repairs on Pag-asa Island’s dilapidated runway as early as July 2018. (philstar.com)