MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed the “intermittent” presence of Chinese vessels surrounding Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea.
“There were presence there intermittently but varying in numbers,” he told reporters in a text message.
The Defense chief was responding to queries about the constant presence of Chinese maritime militia and coast guard near the Philippine-occupied island in the Spratlys.
Pag-asa is the only outpost occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands with a civilian community.
Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) director Gregory Poling said on Twitter that China has “maintained a constant maritime militia and CCG [Chinese Coast Guard] deployment around Thitu Island for 424 days and counting.”
“Somehow this isn’t on the front pages of the Manila papers,” he said.
The AMTI has reported extensively about the presence of Chinese militia and coast guard near Pag-asa and other Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea since 2018.
The presence of these Chinese boats near Pag-asa Island had notably increased since 2018 after the Philippines began the construction of a beaching ramp and sheltered port on the island.
The Philippine government later filed several protests last year against the presence of the Chinese vessels.