The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) has expressed growing concern as more than 135 Chinese vessels were observed “swarming” at the Whitsun Reef, also known as Julian Felipe Reef, situated 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
The PCG reported that these vessels, identified as “Chinese maritime militia vessels” (CMM), were dispersed and scattered within the reef’s boomerang-shaped expanse.
In response to the escalating situation, PCG Commandant Gavan responded to the directive by deploying patrol vessels BRP Sindangan and BRP Cabra to the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef on December 2.
Their mission is to conduct a maritime patrol, challenging the presence of the militia vessels and documenting the ongoing situation.
Despite radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels, there was no response, and the number of Chinese vessels grew from 111 on November 13 to “more than 135” when two patrol boats were deployed over the weekend.
“[o response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels which is now estimated to have grown to more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the NTF-WPS.
Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef) is over 1,000 km away from the nearest major Chinese landmass, Hainan Island.
Julian Felipe Reef’s significance as a low-tide elevation within the territorial sea of the Kalayaan Island Group underscores the gravity of the situation.
Notably, the swarming of CMM vessels in this strategic location has been a longstanding observation, although it was only in recent years that the NTF-WPS brought this issue to public attention, shedding light on the challenges faced in safeguarding Philippine sovereignty in the region.
The international tribunal’s decision rejecting China’s claims has been disregarded by Beijing, which continues to deploy vessels and build military installations in the disputed waters.
The Philippines, along with other neighboring countries, continuously asserts its claims to various islands and reefs, further intensifying tensions in the region.