Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday announced a Coast Guard ship may be stationed off Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea to monitor the large number of Chinese vessels that have massed in the vicinity since March 7.
Lorenzana, in an interview with CNN Philippines, said Coast Guard ships will be constantly stationed in the area.
“I think we are going to station a Coast Guard ship there continuously,” he said.
The Philippine Navy will still be in the general vicinity so as not to be accused of “provoking an incident” and “militarizing the area”.
“So (we will use) white ships (law enforcement vessels like the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), these are civilian ships,” Lorenzana said.
He added that there is also a suggestion to take a tanker near the reef like what was previously done in the Ayungin Reef where a Navy landing ship, the BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57, which was deliberately ran aground in 1999, is now being used as headquarters by Philippine Marine Corps personnel tasked to guard the country’s claims in the area.
Lorenzana, however, said they are still looking at this proposal.
“There was a suggestion and we are studying it. No decision (yet to) do it,” he added.
Earlier, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea expressed concern about a Philippine Coast Guard report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
“The NTF WPS notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” the NTF WPS said.
The reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.*PNA