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AFP intensifying presence in West Philippines Sea

AFP intensifying presence in West Philippines Sea
Michael Punongbayan - January 2, 2023

MANILA, Philippines — Ensuring that territorial defense remains a top priority, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is increasing its presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) even during President Marcos’ scheduled visit to China this week.

As the President flies to China for a state visit and a scheduled meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, Philippine security forces will intensify their patrols in the disputed waters inside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“We are intensifying our presence there as directed by DND (Department of National Defense),” Col. Medel Aguilar, AFP spokesman, told reporters yesterday.

“This is in line with the policy direction stated by our Commander-in-Chief at the WPS,” he said when asked about the military’s accomplishments in 2022 when it comes to territorial defense.

Marcos and Xi are expected to discuss the WPS and South China Sea (SCS) issues, along with other matters affecting the Philippines and China, during the state visit.

Since the increased presence of Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia vessels was monitored in the WPS, the AFP through the Philippine navy has increased its patrol operations in the area along with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

The military also continues to send fresh supplies to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal despite radio challenges and shadowing activities by the CCG.

Recently, National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos noted that the WPS and SCS disputes not only between the Philippines and China but with other claimant countries as well are a food security issue.

“Fish is the real most important resource in the area. Our food security is at stake here,” she said in Filipino.

She said she was writing a book that would contain a proposal to have a regional regulatory fishing agreement that will benefit all claimant countries in the SCS.
‘Hire Filipinos’

In another development, a seafarers group wants Chinese dredgers operating in Manila Bay for big reclamation projects to hire Filipino seamen to open high-value jobs right here in the country.

The Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Marinong Pilipino (SMNP) is asking the Department of Labor and Employment and Department of Migrant Workers to question why foreign dredgers are not hiring Filipinos to man their vessels working on these projects.

In a letter to Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma and Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople dated Dec. 18, 2022, SMNP said having these vessels fully manned by foreigners is a “heinous disregard and disrespect to the Filipino seafaring profession.”

The group said the vessels are supposed to be under a bareboat charter (temporarily under Philippine flag arrangement) but continue to employ Chinese crew members which should not allowed by local authorities.

Chinese vessels and their crews are not permitted to do business in Philippine domestic waters unless they are given a special permit by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

The SMNP also wants the PCG, Marina and DOLE to inspect the foreign vessels being used in reclamation projects in Manila Bay, particularly China Harbor Engineering Corp.’s M/V Liang Ku 9; M/V Liang Ku 99; Shen Zhen Star; Guang Zhou Star; M/V Zhou Hai Star/Atap; M/V Zhua Hai Star; Seastrans Mariner; KG 18; Heng Da 188; Hong Fu 588 (2009-built); M/V Xin Yi 9577; An Da kang 689; Hiong Fu 598; M/V Xin Yi; Hong Fu 588, and Hua Tai Long.

It claimed that the Chinese dredging firm is using 3-in-1 dredgers similar to the vessels used in reclaiming islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea. They started their activity in May 2022 when they started hauling sand from Zambales.

The Marina, for its part, said the vessels were issued the required permits.

Engineer Marc Anthony Pascua, Marina National Capital Region director, said the agency issued the required permits to the vessels of China Harbor operating in Manila Bay, but noted that employing Chinese crew in such project is not allowed.

Benjamin Guo, deputy contractor’s representative for the Pasay Reclamation Project of China Harbor, declined to comment on the matter.

The other Chinese company whose vessels were reportedly the subject of an ongoing PCG probe for conducting alleged illegal activity in Manila Bay is the China First Engineering Co., main contractor of the Waterfront Reclamation Project.

Both companies are under the China Communication Construction Corp. or CCCC, a company whose subsidiaries had dredging vessels blacklisted by the US government in 2020 for allegedly participating in the building and militarizing of the disputed artificial islands in the South China Sea.

CHEC vessels extract sand from the Bucao River in Botolan, Zambales and dump it in Manila Bay under a sand supply contract with a local company called Global Sand Ventures Inc. (GSVI).

One of the incorporators of GSVI belongs to the family of the wife of former executive secretary Victor Rodriguez, who owns Halrey Construction Inc. represented by Josefa Halili of Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

Many are wondering why the contractor became the supplier of sand to the multibillion Manila Bay reclamation projects when it allegedly does not have a permit from the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and of Public Works and Highways, and the Zambales local government to extract sand from the Bucao River.

There is also a violation being attached to the GSVI and CHEC. The permittees in Bucao River must be the owners or charterers of the ships used in dredging to ensure that the extraction and dredging activity is in accordance with the regulation of the DENR.

In this case, charterers or lessors or the ship managers are not the permittees in the Bucao River.

It was reported that the sand supply deal with the Chinese contractor was sealed when Rodriguez still held office in Malacanang. – Rainier Allan Ronda