PCG belies Chinese news: PH buoys still in WPS
All 10 navigational buoys recently placed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) remained intact and in position, the agency said on Friday, belying reports that they had been removed by Chinese maritime militia.
“The PCG’s 10 buoys … remain in their designated locations,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the PCG spokesperson for the WPS, told reporters in a message.
Tarriela’s remark sought to belie earlier reports by Chinese news agencies claiming Chinese “fishermen” had removed the buoys installed in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is within the Philippines’ 220-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Under the protection of Chinese coast guard boats, Chinese fishermen fished out all the buoys deployed by the Philippines, which made the Philippine coast guard feel angry and helpless,” read a May 18 report from Sohu.com, a company based in Beijing.
Tensions rose in late May after both the Philippines and China installed several navigational buoys in the disputed waters.
The PCG installed five buoys marked with the nation’s flag from May 10-12 in the Philippine-occupied islands of Patag (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Panata (Lankiam Cay), and the fishing grounds of Balagtas (Irving) Reef and Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, where dozens of suspected Chinese militia vessels continue to swarm despite repeated protests from the Philippines.
In 2022, the PCG also left buoys near Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), Parola (Northeast Cay), and Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. In all, the PCG has installed 10 navigational buoys and plans to add six more this year at still undisclosed areas in the WPS.
Out of nine features currently occupied by the Philippines in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of Palawan province, only Rizal (Commodore) Reef and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal do not have any installed buoy, despite Ayungin being a potential flashpoint in the WPS.
The installation of buoys is part of the PCG’s commitment to assert the country’s sovereignty over the WPS, PCG Commandant Adm. Artemio Abu said.
“Tensions and disputes over territory occur [because] boundaries at sea are merely imaginary lines drawn on water,” Abu said during the arrival honors for the buoy-laying contingent in Port Area, Manila, on May 15. “The marine buoys are as close as we can get to internationally recognized markers of our territory.”
Tit for tat
Abu noted that “[t]hese imaginary lines move and change with every perspective, every map, and every nation with its own interest. [Thus], it is important for us to mark our territory by solidifying these boundaries [and] announcing to the world the scope of our sovereignty.”
On May 22, it was China’s turn to deploy buoys, sending out two vessels to the WPS. The PCG then dispatched the ship Malapascua to monitor the Chinese activities.
On May 24, China’s transport ministry confirmed that three beacons had been placed close to Balagtas, Julian Felipe and Gaven Reefs (Burgos Reefs), the last under China’s control since 1988.
Philippine authorities had earlier warned China of “serious repercussions” if the buoys installed within Manila’s EEZ were removed.
“If we have evidence that they’d deliberately take out our installed buoys, which we believe are legitimate, there will be serious repercussions,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Coyme, commander of the PCG’s Task Force Kaligtasan sa Karagatan.
“What we need to do is produce necessary evidence and forward them to the [Department of Foreign Affairs] and the NTF-WPS (National Task Force on West Philippine Sea). It’s up to them to take action as far as diplomatic [response] is concerned,” he added.