In March, the National Task Force West Philippine Sea expressed concern about a Philippine Coast Guard report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted in line formation in the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippines’ Armed Forces later confirmed that around 183 vessels believed to be Chinese maritime militia were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol in Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef.
On March 24, The Philippine government demanded to remove all the Chinese fishing and maritime vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines demands China to withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime vessels in the vicinity and adjacent waters of relevant features in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea and direct its fishing vessels to stop environmentally damaging activities.
The United States Embassy in the Philippines also supports the Department of Foreign Affairs in the filing of diplomatic protests against the sighting of more than 200 Chinese vessels in the reef since March 7.
Then the U.S. State Department Spokesman said, An armed attack against the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger the US-Philippines’ obligations Mutual Defense Treaty.
As the incident continues, an increased number of United States Navy warships patrol in the West Philippine Sea. The patrol of this warship allows some of the maritime militia to remove their vessel to avoid possible conflict.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group conducted joint training in the West Philippine Sea. The U.S. Navy air strike group consists of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (C.G. 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59). The USS Makin Island’s group also consisted of amphibious assault ships, the USS Somerset and USS San Diego.
During the exercise, the Navy deploys several fighters and surveillance aircraft and conducts several simulations. Aside from it, the U.S Navy observes several Chinese Navy warships, including its aircraft carrier.
By the end of March, the Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana plan to station a Coast Guard ship in Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea to monitor a large number of Chinese vessels gathered in the reef.
The Defense Secretary said the Philippine Navy still in the general vicinity to not be accused of provoking an incident and militarizing the area. So the Philippines will use white ships such as law enforcement vessels like the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Then the BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS36) arrived in Puerto Princesa City on April 12 to expand the efforts of Western Command to intensify the Philippines presence in the West Philippine Sea. This in support of the Philippine Government claim in the area. BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS36) came from the Philippine Navy Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao command and was charged with securing the Philippine-Indonesia border before her redeployment to Palawan and patrol in the West Philippine Sea.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea deployed another Coast Guard cutter, four Navy ships, and two other vessels from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to the South China Sea and Kalayaan Island Group, where Whitsun Reef is located, for maritime patrol.
Area Task Force-West chairman Vice Adm. Ramil Roberto said the government will undertake maritime, sovereignty patrols, and law enforcement patrols in the maritime, including at the Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef) Pagasa Cay, Recto Bank (Reed Bank), and other parts of the KIG.
This week, BRP Tarlac (LD 601), one of the Philippine Navy’s Amphibious Landing Dock, arrived at Puerto Princesa International Pier. BRP Tarlac skipped by Capt Norman and manned by Fleet-Marine personnel will be deployed together with other Philippine Navy vessels in different areas of concern in the West Philippine Sea.
The deployment of BRP Tarlac and other Philippine Navy vessels in the Western Command Joint Area of Operation is in line with the directive of the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines leadership to intensify the conduct of sovereignty patrols to protect our local fishermen, preserve the marine environment, and secure our national interest.
The reef is a sizeable boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west Bataraza, Palawan. This incident is not yet over as some of the Chinese militia vessels are still parked on the Whitsun reef.