Key role in COVID-19 fight won’t peel PH military away from West Philippine Sea duty
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine military, which is now playing a key role in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, continued to perform other critical tasks, like its operations in the West Philippine Sea.
The Naval Forces West (NFW), in a statement, said although the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is gripping the entire country, the NFW has “instituted measures to ensure sustained operations in the West Philippine Sea.”
The NFW said its priority was to protect personnel in their West Philippine Sea tasks.
On Thursday, the NFW gave recognition to Navy men and officers who finished their four-month tour of duty at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The BRP Sierra Madre was deliberately grounded in the shoal in the late 1990s to assert Philippine claim over the area.
NFW commander Commodore Renato David awarded Military Merit Medal to seven sailors led by Lt. Charles Balquin in a low-key ceremony in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
The Navy men were honored for their “selfless service” in “enforcing maritime laws and protecting Philippine sovereignty amid the volatile condition in the disputed area.”
To assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, a group of sailors and marines had been deployed on rotation of three to six months to nine Philippine-occupied islands in the area.
On Thursday (April 2), the Philippine Air Force deployed two S-211 trainer aircraft to continue maritime patrols in the Western Command’s area of operations, which included West Philippine Sea.
The planes would be part of the Tactical Operations Wing (TOW) West at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, according to the TOW West on a Facebook post.
The West Philippine Sea is wracked by conflicting territorial claims, mainly by China which had been claiming that nearly the entire South China Sea belonged to it.
China based its claim on a mythical nine-dash line which had been rejected in 2016 by an international tribunal in a case filed by the Philippines. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have separate claims in the area, too.
China, however, has been putting its military superiority on display in the area, building artificial islands and military outposts, deploying warships and maritime militias to the contested waterways.
Edited by TSB
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