THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is doubling its efforts on maritime surveillance, disclosing that they have detected resurgence of Chinese vessels swarming around the West Philippine Sea and massive harvesting of corals in the Rozul Reef.
AFP Western Command Commander, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, said that while authorities successfully conducted a maritime law enforcement operation in early July, which temporarily drove away around 50 Chinese militia vessels, they returned in a resurgence late August.
“There was a considerable amount of time na walang swarming doon because of our presence there,” Carlos said in a news forum in Quezon City on Saturday.
Carlos emphasized the challenges of maintaining a constant presence in the area citing adverse weather conditions and resource limitations.
“We’d like to maintain 100 percent, 365 days a year. But because of the weather, limited resources…our troops have to go back to port to refuel, to take some rest,” he said.
Carlos said they suspect massive illegal harvesting of coral in the area, referring to report of the underwater surveys conducted by Philippine Navy divers.
Although they are not definitively asserting that the Chinese vessels are harvesting corals, Carlos said there are indications that strongly suggest that such activities may be occurring.
“When they left, we send out our divers… we send out our divers to do an underwater survey and nakita namin na wala nang corals, nasira na iyong mga corals and then may mga debris,” he said.
This raises concerns about violations of the Philippines’ sovereign rights, as only the Philippines has the rightful claim to the resources within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, according to Carlos.
“That’s why it’s alarming because as far as the Western Command is concerned it is our duty to protect that sovereign rights para sa mga Pilipino – sila dapat ang mag-enjoy ng resources na nandoon sa exclusive economic zone,” he said.
Carlos said that the Western Command intends to bolster its presence in the West Philippine Sea, including deploying additional assets and personnel.
“We’re doubling our effort on that. We’re going to address that issue by increasing our presence there. We should be constant, have strong presence there – sama-sama na,” he said.
Carlos also mentioned the need to actively coordinate with allies and treaty partners to explore potential courses of action that can help protect the Philippines’ territorial rights and resources.