THE Philippines will build more patrol vessels to further enhance the country’s presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Tuesday, amid China’s continued aggression in the disputed waters.
In a chance interview on the sidelines of the 122nd anniversary of the Philippine Coast Guard, the President said the PCG was expecting around 40 more vessels to be made in Cebu.
“So we are continuing with the upgrading of the equipment, the training, and the capabilities of all our people, especially the Coast Guard, not only because they are on the frontline in the problems now that we are facing in the West Philippine Sea but also because of the very important function that they play when it comes to search and rescue when it comes to maritime incidents, when it comes to even disaster assistance,” Marcos told reporters.
“They have many things to do, so we are continuing with the new vessel that we are seeing there, the 40-foot vessel that is made in Cebu. We will eventually have 40 of them, and that will give us an increased capability. This is ongoing,” he added.
The President said the Philippines “is lucky as we have many friends around the world” who are helping strengthen the PCG’s capabilities.
“Makikita naman natin na nagi-increase ang ating capability para makapag-defend sa maritime, sovereign territory ng Pilipinas (You can see that our capability is increasing so that we can defend the maritime, sovereign territory of the Philippines),” he added.
In his speech, Marcos lauded the PCG for upholding the country’s maritime security, promoting maritime rights, fighting smuggling, as well as for protecting the nation’s marine environment and securing the safety of local fisherfolk.
“Your integrity, your discipline and professionalism in the performance of your mandate have helped us further our collective vision of a stronger, more harmonious and more resilient Philippines,” he said.
“The Philippine Coast Guard remained steadfast in assuming a pivotal role in our continued promotion and protection of our country’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction and in being at the forefront of our efforts to ensure that our fishers and their fishing rights are respected and recognized throughout our vast maritime areas,” the President added.
The PCG, the oldest and only humanitarian armed service in the Philippines, is celebrating its founding anniversary with the theme, ‘Sailing Together in Unity and Harmony.’
The President said all the PCG’s efforts, including its initiatives in marine environment protection and conservation and ensuring the safety and welfare of all citizens in the country’s waters, are deeply appreciated.
He also expressed gratitude to the Coast Guard for its accomplishments in the performance of its duty, which he noted have consistently championed the nation and people’s rights and welfare in the face of daunting adversity and difficulties.
“As we embark on a new chapter, I enjoin all of you to continue to work closely with other concerned agencies as you perform this extremely valuable and important mandate,” Marcos said, calling for the consolidation of strengths to ensure the benefits for all Filipinos.
“Be assured that this administration firmly stands with you in your plans and efforts to improve, expand and modernize your capabilities and services so that you may better contribute to the security and welfare of our people and of the nation,” he added.
The PCG earlier this year urged the government to prioritize its modernization following reports of Chinese harassment and incursions into the West Philippine Sea.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, said videos and photos supported the Philippines’ assertion that it was China that was acting aggressively in the area.
“I think we just have to look at the videos and photos that we have been releasing in the past months,” Tarriela told reporters in a separate media interview.
“This is the reason why we have been more active in exposing their behavior,” he said. “As you can see, since February, every time we release our narrative that we are being bullied, there is a lot of aggressive behavior ng People’s Republic of China, whether China Coast Guard or Chinese Maritime Militia, all of those are supported by compelling videos and images.”
Meanwhile, among the PCG’s key accomplishments include rescuing a total of 6,332 persons in distress.
It also participated in anti-smuggling operations targeting 24 warehouses in Manila, particularly those engaged in illegal importation of agricultural products and hoarding of locally produced onions and garlic.
In marine environmental protection, the PCG carried out 4,774 cleanup activities.
It also led and completed the oil spill cleanup brought by the sinking of “MT Princess Empress” in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28 this year.
To ensure maritime security and safety, the PCG maintains 601 lighthouses that serve as vital navigational, and last month, it removed a floating barrier installed by China in Bajo de Masinloc, hampering Filipino fishermen.
Also on Tuesday, the Armed of the Philippines (AFP) said it expects another diplomatic protest to be filed against China over yet another attempt to disrupt resupply missions in the WPS.
AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar, in an interview with CNN Philippines, said they already submitted a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) regarding the incident.
“This will be another protest that will be filed against China,” he added.
Aguilar said the Chinese Coast Guard’s attempt to cross the bow of the Philippine Navy vessel “BRP Benguet (LS-507)” on Oct. 13, 2023, was the first time it did such a maneuver on a Filipino vessel doing a routine rotation and resupply (RORE) mission in Rizal Reef.
“The report says that there were instances of harassment this particular way, shadowing operation, but this is the first time that they tried to cross the bow of our naval vessel, which is LS-507, which is a kind of elevation of their activities as far as RORE mission in Rizal Reef is concerned,” he added.
The AFP earlier said the BRP Benguet warned off and issued consecutive radio challenges to People’s Liberation Army Navy Ship 621 (PLAN 621) after it shadowed the Filipino ship at an 80-yard distance and attempted to cross its bow with a closest point of approach of 350 yards while 5.8 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island.
“So we consider it already as close enough to be considered as a dangerous maneuver on the part of China,” Aguilar said.
He also theorized that the Chinese vessel probably changed its course after being warned by Philippine Navy personnel and noticing that their actions were being recorded.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. earlier urged China to cease such dangerous maneuvers and aggressive actions toward Philippine vessels.
He said the potential for collision and accident at sea further highlights the urgency for Beijing to uphold maritime safety standards.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada also on Tuesday expressed alarm over the reported Sunday incident.
“The recent incident involving a Chinese Navy vessel shadowing and attempting to obstruct the Philippine Navy’s resupply mission in the West Philippine Sea is a matter of great concern. It highlights the ongoing challenges and complexities that our nation faces in this region,” Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, said in a statement.
“Our Filipino sailors and naval personnel risk their lives to protect our sovereignty and maritime interests. They are the guardians of our seas, and it is our duty to show them the utmost gratitude and support. Ensuring their safety is paramount, and we must safeguard our nation’s rights by doing so,” he added.
“I am one with our Armed Forces in condemning the action of the China People’s Liberation Army navy ship because it is clear they want us to take actions that are contrary to the existing principle under Unclos. These maneuverings of China should not be allowed to go on by our concerned authorities,” the senator said.
“We must continue to uphold our rights, protect our territories, and assert our sovereignty through peaceful and legal means,” he added.
JAVIER JOE ISMAEL AND PNA