AFP: Chinese vessels still seen in West PH Sea; PH naval, aerial assets continue patrols

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — Chinese vessels are still in the West Philippine Sea, with Philippine naval and aerial assets not backing down from sovereignty patrols in the area, the chief of the country's armed forces said Monday.

Without giving the exact number, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told CNN Philippines' The Source that the vessels include those from China's navy, coast guard and militia while some are manned by fishermen. He said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea will be the one to provide the figures.

"There are still Chinese vessels from Coast Guard, Navy, some are militias, some are fishermen. I would suggest that the figures will be taken from NTF-WPS dahil 'yun ang usapan namin, (because that is what we have discussed)," he added.

Sobejana said at least 10 Philippine Navy ships are currently deployed to conduct sovereignty patrols in the West Philippine Sea, while four planes from the Air Force are on standby under the Western Command.

Radio challenges from China have also continued over the past weeks, but the Philippines is not backing down, Sobejana noted.

"Sa surface patrols lang madalas may challenges. May template na itong Chinese navy, coast guard na ‘this is our territory, get out of here.’ But we are not intimidated by those challenges," he said.

[Translation: During surface patrols, they issue challenges. The Chinese navy and coast guard already has this template saying, 'this is our territory, get out of here.' But we are not intimidated by those challenges.]

"We continue our route," he said, adding that they ensure the patrol plan is not disrupted by those challenges.

Sobejana also said they are looking at transforming Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group into a logistics hub and installing a high-resolution monitoring system in the country's nine occupied features there to "improve their situational awareness" amid the sea dispute.

READ: AFP: Logistics hub, high-res CCTVs eyed to improve WPS patrols 

The military is also ready to assist the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources who are mainly exercising their police authority over foreign vessels spotted within the country's exclusive economic zone.

"Very clear ang mandate ng AFP (The AFP has a very clear mandate). That is to secure the people and defend the territory," Sobejana stressed, noting that patrols will continue to ensure that Filipino fishermen can continue to exercise their rights in contributing to the country's food security.

"Isa pa (One more thing), it is ours. We [will] continue to do our part as defender of our territory and protector of the people," he added.

Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Armand Balilo said last week that there will also be a second leg of maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea where they will deploy their 84-meter offshore patrol vessel, BRP Gabriela Silang, their largest and most modern offshore patrol vessel to date. The PCG is also recruiting additional personnel and preparing more assets to strengthen its functions.

READ: PCG: More personnel, assets underway to strengthen coast guard functions