Did you know that at anytime, there are between 300 and 400 vessels in the South China Sea, including in the part of the vital sealane that we claim as our 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, with most of them belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard and the Chinese maritime militia?
That was the revelation of AFP Western Command (WESCOM) Commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos in a recent media forum, indicating Beijing appears to be undertaking a creeping invasion of the West Philippine Sea.
But China would be doing so on the basis of its fictional 10-dash line claiming ownership of practically the whole of the South China Sea that has no valid historical nor legal basis and is not recognized at all by the international community.
According to the AFP WESCOM, it will be intensifying efforts in maritime surveillance after they detected the swarming of Chinese vessels around the West Philippine Sea and massive harvesting of corals in the Rozul Reef.
The Navy Vice Admiral said they suspect massive illegal harvesting of corals in the area based on underwater surveys conducted by Philippine Navy divers.
While not categorically declaring the illegal harvesting of the corals has been undertaken by the Chinese, he said the large presence of Chinese vessels in the area in August this year is a strong indication they might well have been responsible for the disappearance of the corals.
The Navy official asserts if the Chinese illegally harvested the corals in Rozu Reef, this is a violation of the country’s sovereign rights, as only the Philippines has the rightful claim to the resources within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Hence, as far as the Western Command is concerned, they will perform their duty to protect our sovereign rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
It will do this by expanding its presence in the West Philippine Sea by deploying additional naval assets and personnel.
But beyond this, the AFP will also actively coordinate with allies and treaty partners to explore potential courses of action that can help protect the Philippines’ territorial rights and resources.
Meantime, Sen. Risa Hontiveros is urging the Senate to probe China’s alleged harvesting of corals in Rozul Reef.
“They also dredged our seafloor to [build] their artificial islands [and] militarize them within the West Philippine Sea and our Exclusive Economic Zone to claim that [it] is their territory.”
The senator believes this is not the first time that China has done environmental degradation in West Philippine Sea.
In 2020, she had urged Philippine government to make China pay for damaging the country’s reefs.
This proposed investigation should proceed in earnest so that we may know just how Beijing is encroaching on our claimed territory in the West Philippine Sea.