The Philippines has been deploying more ships and aircraft in Palawan and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to increase the country’s sovereignty patrols, a task force monitoring the developments in the tension-filled waters bared recently.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said it has coordinated for the deployment of four Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels, one PCG aircraft, five Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels for WPS maritime patrols, and Philippine National Police – Maritime Group (PNP-MG) high-speed tactical watercraft and rubber boats for maritime law enforcement in the coastal areas.
“In compliance with the directive of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to sustain our sovereignty patrols in the WPS, increase safety of life at sea operations, and [intensify] operations against illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing (IUUF), the NTF-WPS has coordinated for the deployment of more assets under the control of its Area Task Forces (ATF),” said NTF-WPS spokesperson Omar Romero.
The NTF-WPS has established two area forces to safeguard the features and interests of the country in the WPS, namely; the Area Task Force West (ATF-West) and Area Task Force North (ATF-North).
The ATF-West, being led by the military’s Western Command (WestCom), maintains nine island detachments in Kalayaan, Palawan with the biggest contingent at Pag-asa Island, the seat of the municipality.
It also covers the Malampaya Gas Field and the resource-rich Recto Bank.
Addressing China earlier, President Duterte said “We want to remain friends, we want to share whatever it is… I don’t think there’s enough fish really to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the (South) China Sea sa ating oil, diyan na ako, then by that time I will send my ships there.”
In a separate Kapihan sa Manila Bay Forum, Assistant Secretary Carmina Acuna, head of the National Security Council’s Policy and Special Studies Office, said a total of 14 vessels and five aircraft have been patrolling in the areas covered by the ATF-West, and eight vessels and six aircraft in areas covered by the ATF-North.
Meanwhile, the ATF-North, being led by the Northern Luzon Command (NoLCom), covers Bajo de Masinloc, the islands north of Cagayan, Batanes, the Philippine Rise, and the latter’s Extended Continental Shelf (ECS). ATF-North also maintains detachments on the islands of Batanes. (MB/SPH)