PH deploys more naval assets to Julian Felipe Reef

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Aerial view of Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — More naval units have been deployed to the West Philippine Sea as more than 100 Chinese boats refuse to leave Julian Felipe Reef.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told lawmakers the military spotted 183 Chinese vessels, believed to be militia ships, still moored near the reef part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. He also wrote a letter to China's defense attaché in the Philippines Wednesday morning to discuss the latest incursion.

Sobejana said a meeting was scheduled at 10 a.m., but he was unable to attend as he had to face the Commission on Appointments.

"I directed the Philippine Navy to deploy additional naval assets to the West Philippine Sea to increase our visibility and ensure the security and safety of our fishermen, of course our marine resources, and the integrity of our territory," the AFP chief said. "We do not tolerate incursions in our territorial waters from anybody."

READ: Suspected Chinese militia boats refuse to leave Julian Felipe reef in West PH Sea despite protest

While the vessels look like fishing boats, Sobejana pointed out that these are arranged in a phalanx or military-like formation. It was a common sighting in the Sulu Sea which he once patrolled, but the military official said the number of ships near the disputed reef was "substantial."

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. said the Philippines is also counting on its defense agreement with the United States to help assert its exclusive rights to reefs and features in the disputed waters.

"While diplomacy is the art of the possible it cannot be just that. It is also the practice of right and the enforcement by power," Locsin said. "Along with international law, the arbitral award, is the fact that although we may not have at the moment the military means to even give a bloody nose, we do have a Mutual Defense Treaty which says very clearly and has been explained by Secretary Pompeo and Secretary of State Blinken after him that any attack on a Philippine vessel, however small, as long as it is a government vessel like a coast guard, is an attack on the United States."

READ: Biden-led US to recognize PH arbitral win in South China Sea row, says envoy

"We must have the courage to go where probably we will not be able to go back from because if you don’t send that message to the other side, then they will just keep trenching and trenching and trenching on our territory and then our sense of nation dies," he added.

In a rare move on Tuesday, the DFA published the contents of its strongly worded diplomatic protest, telling China to withdraw its ships. Beijing denied these were maritime militia and insisted the reef is part of its territory.

DFA Assistant Secretary for Maritime and Ocean Affairs Generoso Calonge said other responses to the latest incursions should involve boosting the assets of the Armed Forces "so that we won't be taken very lightly by those near our borders."

"We used to have mobile missiles in Palawan so that if there are attacks, we can invoke the MDT because that will be an attack on Philippine metropolitan territory as provided for in the MDT between the United States and the Philippines," said Calonge, who has been appointed as Philippine ambassador to Iraq.

"I don't intend to defeat China, that's impossible. But I think if we can bloody them enough that they would hesitate to look at us in a condescending manner, we are capable of procuring the desired equipment," added Calonge, a retired Army who is also a commodore of the Philippine Coast Guard.