Naval and air units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are regularly conducting “maritime domain awareness” patrols off Pag-asa Island, its spokesperson said.
“Ang Navy vessel po natin doon ay hindi naman po siya stationary because alam naman po ninyo, we respond to different missions. But what we can assure you, regularly meron po tayong barko ng Navy diyan at ang mga barko rin pong iyan ang ginagamit natin sa ating daily mission and operations diyan sa iba pa nating walong mga features and islands and islet na binabantayan ng inyong Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas, partikular ng inyong Navy, diyan po sa West Philippine Sea,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in an interview with DZMM Tuesday.
The military official was responding to a question on whether the Navy has deployed assets to the area following reports claiming that hundreds of Chinese vessels of various types were swarming Pag-asa Island.
Arevalo also bared that these naval patrols are augmented by Air Force aircraft.
He clarified that the military has yet to receive reports of Filipino fishermen being harassed or subjected to any act of aggression by these Chinese vessels.
“Wala naman pong pagha-harass, wala naman pong ganoong report. And as a matter of fact, ine-encourage po natin, una, ang ating mga mangingisda na i-ulat po sa atin kung sila ay nakararanas ng ganitong klaseng harassment o kung anuman iyong kanilang nakita na paglabag sa kanilang karapatan, kumbaga. At ikalawa po, ay ginagawa po nating encouragement pa rin sa kanila ang ituloy nila ang kanilang ginagawang pangingisda diyan, dahil wala naman nga pong harassment na nauulat sa atin. We encourage them to continue with their daily fishing diyan, sapagkat iyon naman po ang kanilang kabuhayan at ikinabubuhay,” Arevalo said.
He noted that while there are confirmed sightings of Chinese ships in the area, the number is not as high as the more than 600 reported.
“Ang malinaw po diyan ay parang nagkaroon ng double counting. Kasi for one quarter – January, plus February plus March, equals one quarter ay 627. Pero actually, some of the vessels come in and go out. Kaya ang binilang po natin iyong ‘bow number,’ iyong numero doon sa bow at iyon pong — meaning, sa harapan ng barko at ang total po noon is around 275 [for one quarter],” Arevalo said, adding that on the average, this translates to more than 80 ships per month.
It is also likely that these vessels are observing ongoing improvement works on Pag-asa Island, such as the beaching ramp and repairs to the runway, he pointed out.
“At ang atin pong obserbasyon ay nandoon sila upang magpakita ng kanilang presensiya. At the same time, meron po kasi tayong proyektong ginagawa diyan sa Pag-asa Island, naibabalita n’yo naman po iyan sa maraming pagkakataon, at ang atin pong tingin dito ay kasama iyon sa kanilang minamanmanan,” he added. PNA