MANILA, Apr 22 (Mabuhay) — The Philippines will deal with the presence of Chinese warships and militia boats in the West Philippine Sea with its own military assets and patrol forces,National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Wednesday.
Esperon made the remark a day after Ambassador to Washington Babe Romualdez said the US was waiting for the Philippines to ask for its assistance amid the incursion of the Chinese vessels in the country’s waters.
“This is something we would like to address by the deployment of our patrol forces , Coast Guard, Bureau of Fisheries, as well as military assets,” Esperon said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay.
Citing the pronouncement of his counterpart White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Esperon said the US was reiterating the Mutual Defense Treaty.
He said the US would help in case of a “shooting war.”
“I think we’re not in that kind of situation where we’re about to be in a shooting war with Chinese forces in the area,” Esperon said.
He said he did not think that the US can actually drive away the Chinese vessels from the West Philippine Sea. “We don’t think they would be able to drive away anybody there.”
On Tuesday, Romualdez said the US was waiting for the Philippines to ask for help in removing the Chinese vessels from the Philippine waters.
Romualdez did not give specific details, but he cited correspondence between the defense departments of the two countries and the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the South China Sea, a portion of which is being claimed by the Philippines.
“We were working round the clock, so to speak, in terms of being able to navigate or making sure that there’s the freedom of the seas, and code of conduct that we’re pushing,” Romualdez said.
“At the same time, the United States is obviously waiting for us to call them if we need their assistance in removing or asking the vessels that are parked in our area of responsibility or economic zone [to leave the area]. And both our Philippine Navy and the US Navy are working on this,” he added.
On March 7, around 220 vessels were spotted near the Julian Felipe Reef, located 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Palawan and part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The National Task Force WPS reported that 240 Chinese militia vessels were scattered in Philippine territorial waters off Kalayaan in Palawan and are within the Philippines’ EEZ. Aside from these, six vessels of the Chinese navy, including at least three warships, have been spotted in the WPS.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had demanded for the immediate removal of the Chinese vessels from the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Chinese Embassy claimed that the vessels were only “seeking shelter” near the reef, which they claimed was part of China’s Nansha Islands or Spratlys in the South China Sea.
China has been insisting ownership over nearly the entire South China Sea — a claim debunked by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 following a lawsuit filed by the Philippines.
The Philippines filed diplomatic protests over the presence of Chinese vessels. (MNS)