Tag Archive: territorial

Poro Point, La Union – One of the US’ newest sealift vessels was not challenged by Chinese ships while heading to the port here for humanitarian activities, a ranking US military official said.

Captain James Meyer, commander of the Task Force Forager on board the USNS Millinocket, said they did not even see any Chinese ship while en route.

“Very well, uneventful, great voyage, no problems,” Meyer told reporters in a briefing Thursday.

Captain Joel Roos, surgeon of the US 7th Fleet, said even the commercial plane he rode from Japan was not challenged.

“I flew on a Philippine Airlines from Tokyo so if there was a challenge, it could be in the news right now,” Roos said in jest.

Reporters asked the US military officials if they experienced being challenged by Chinese ships while heading for La Union, a province facing the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, a Chinese warship told a US Navy Poseidon surveillance plane to leave while the latter was flying over those waters.

The incident was recorded and reported by international news network CNN, whose crew joined the flight.

The USNS Millinocket, a ship that can carry as many as a battalion of troops and entered service only in May 2014, arrived in Poro Point, San Fernando City, La Union, on Tuesday to serve as a secondary platform for the humantarian aid program Pacific Partnership.

Another ship, the floating hospital USNS Mercy, serves as the primary platform and is docked in Subic Bay, Zambales, which is also facing the West Philippine Sea.

Also docked in Subic Bay is the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Chicago, who is in a visit to showcase the latest capabilities of the submarine fleet.

While the Millinocket, Mercy, and Chicago are all docked in the country, it was learned that several other US vessels were underway near the Philippines as August began.

Among them are the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen and the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, who were at the Philippine Sea and at the South China Sea, respectively, on August 1, according to information from the US Pacific Fleet website.

At the Pacific Partnership in La Union, a US medical task force will embark on technical exchanges and medical engagements, while Filipino and American troops are also set to build three two-room schoolhouses, conduct disaster preparedness seminars, and tabletop exercises that simulate disasters, Meyer said. (John Roson)

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Camp Aquino, Tarlac – The Armed Forces plans to put up four more radar stations in Northern Luzon to prevent more intrusions into the country’s territory, a top military official said Friday.

“What we want is to have a system where the Navy can detect illegal entries from as far as Batanes to the West Philippine Sea,” Maj. Gen. Gregorio Catapang, chief of the AFP Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), said in a press briefing here.

Catapang said he is now “fine-tuning” a proposal to build radar stations in Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, and Aurora.

The facilities, called “littoral observatory stations” (LOS), will be helpful in preventing incidents like those that happened in Batanes and Scarborough Shoal, he said.

Capabilities of the existing LOS in Zambales and Pangasinan are “very limited,” he said.

In April 2012, a Navy ship caught Chinese fishermen poaching in Scarborough Shoal off Zambales after being alerted by a reconnaissance plane.

The incident resulted in a “standoff” at the shoal between Philippine and Chinese authorities, before the former withdrew and the latter intensified its presence.

Last May, Coast Guard members tried to apprehend a Taiwanese fisherman poaching off Batanes, but the incident resulted in the latter’s death.

Meanwhile, Catapang said he is considering proposing that Filipino fishermen who can’t fish anymore at Scarborough Shoal because of Chinese authorities be transferred to the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean.

“Wala tayong kalaban dun,” he said, adding that sea farming could also be considered for the displaced fishermen.

Catapang said the military does not prevent the fishermen from going to Scarborough Shoal, though it’s best not to.

“They are allowed to fish, kaya lang medyo critical ‘yung area (Scarborough), we don’t want them to be in harm’s way,” he said.

Varying numbers of Chinese law enforcement ships, sometimes reaching as high as five, are still being monitored at the shoal, he said.

Seventy-five concrete blocks, which Defense Secretary Voltaire had called a “prelude to construction” by China, are still also scattered around the shoal.

“We don’t intend to remove them, wala namang order sa amin. Ang Armed Forces ninyo kung anong inutos, ‘yun ang gagawin namin,” Catapang said. (John Roson)

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Authorities are investigating the Chinese vessel found near Malapascua Island, Cebu, for possible illegal activities, including quarrying sand and pebbles, officials said Saturday.

Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo, Coast Guard spokesman, said there have been reports that the M/V Ming Yuan had been used to carry sand and pebbles from areas surrounding Malapascua.

“We are pursuing reports that the vessel is utilized in transporting white sand and pebbles from nearby islands,” Balilo said in a text message.

A team is now monitoring Malapascua and nearby areas “for possible illegal extraction or siphoning of white sand,” Dr. Eddie Llamedo, information officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Central Visayas, said when sought for more details.

The team comprises personnel of the DENR-Central Visayas, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Coast Guard, police, and the local government of Daanbantayan town, which has jurisdiction of Malapascua, he said.

Llamedo said the reports of quarrying came about after a Chinese vessel was seen, allegedly “siphoning” white sand, off Malapascua earlier this month.

A Chinese vessel was inspected on June 15, but authorities did not find white sand on it, he said.

Llamedo could not say if the inspected vessel was also the M/V Ming Yuan.

Meanwhile, Balilo said immigration officials have confiscated the passports of the crew members of M/V Ming Yuan, though the crew members were allowed to remain on the vessel.

While the probe is going on, the ship was also ordered to stay away from Malapascua, which is popular among tourists for its white sand beaches.

“Since the vessel was anchored on a passenger vessel route and posing as hazard to navigation, the vessel was directed to anchor in Northern Cebu while government agencies are investigating possible illegal activities of the shipping company,” Balilo said.

Llamedo said Malapascua is not listed among the country’s “protected areas,” but should be protected just the same because it is public property.

“Because of its being a small island or islet that is less than 250 hectares, it is considered as public land, meaning it is owned by the state or government,” he said. (John Roson)

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Chinese Ambassador Ma Ke Qing speaking with Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin on the sidelines of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Chinese Ambassador Ma Ke Qing speaking with Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin on the sidelines of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

China is concerned that the Philippines will build a structure on Ayungin Shoal and said it is monitoring the latter’s movements in the area, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Wednesday.

Gazmin made the remark after speaking with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing on the sidelines of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers in Camp Aguinaldo.

“Ang sabi niya (Ma) ay mino-monitor nila ‘yung barko nating nandudoon, kung magtatayo tayo ng bagong structure,” Gazmin told reporters.

Earlier, Ma was seen seeking an audience with Gazmin, who ushered her into a corner where they spoke for about 10 minutes.

“They were concerned about the Philippines coming up with structures, additional structures in Ayungin Shoal. I told her (Ma) that we are moving towards Ayungin Shoal only to bring provisions of food and water for the soldiers who are there,” Gazmin said.

Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

Gazmin was referring to Marine soldiers on the BRP Sierra Madre, which now serves as a detachment after being grounded in 1999 at Ayungin, located 110 to 120 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan.

Two Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels are still at the shoal as of Wednesday, Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Navy’s spokesman on the West Philippine Sea, said in a phone interview.

“Ang threat is always there, always there, but we have some protocols like the avoidance of dangerous maneuvers, avoidance of confrontational moves, so right now it’s holding,” Gazmin said.

Ma, in a separate interview at Camp Aguinaldo, only told reporters that she and Gazmin discussed “cooperation and very good exchanges” between China and the Philippines.

“We talked about the balanced relations, China is ready to develop cooperation and very good exchanges between the two sides because this year is the year of friendly exchanges between us,” the Chinese envoy said.

But Gazmin said the “cooperation” Ma spoke of was about developments at Ayungin Shoal.

“‘Yung cooperation, cooperation in terms of hindi natin iva-violate ‘yung usapan na magtatayo tayo ng mga structures, sabi naman natin, magdadala tayo ng supplies sa mga tao doon, tubig at pagkain,” he said.

The defense chief said he also discussed with Ma the scheduled “rotation” of Philippine troops stationed at Ayungin.

“Hindi naman puwedeng permanente ang tao dun, masisira ang ulo,” Gazmin said. (John Roson)

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Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

The Philippines will not pull out its troops from Ayungin Shoal despite the presence of a Chinese warship and will fight to the last man, if the situation worsens, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Thursday.

In a press briefing, Gazmin said China still has two Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships and a navy frigate at the shoal as of Wednesday, apparently to scare Philippine troops.

“Maaring ganoon ang message nila, eh tayo naman up to the last soldier standing, we will fight for what is ours,” the defense chief said.

Asked if the government was considering pulling out the troops from Ayungin, Gazmin said: “Hindi, atin ‘yan eh. Kasama nga ‘yan ng ating continental shelf, bakit tayo aalis?”

Resupply still on

The military has even scheduled a resupply mission for troops who are stationed at the shoal, he said.

“Wala naman tayong problema. Wala pa tayong problema, ibig sabihin. We are due for replenishment and rotation of troops, gagawin natin yan dahil ito, dati naman nating ginagawa, ito ay routinary, at ang nagdadala niyan ay isang navy ship na unarmed. Ito eh logistics vessel, so i don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” Gazmin said.

“As far as we’re concerned, hindi disputed ‘yan, atin ‘yan eh,” he said, stressing that Ayungin is only 110 to 120 nautical miles away from Rizal, Palawan.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides countries with a 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone.”

Aside from the frigate and CMS ships, China had also sent at least 10 fishing vessels and dinghies to the shoal.

‘Clear intrusion’

But what was glaring, according to Gazmin, was the deployment of a military ship.

“Maliwanag na intrusion ‘yan, violation ‘yan, dahil hindi na ‘yan civilian ship, kumbaga sumobra na ‘yung kanyang violation, pumasok na siya sa ating territory,” he said.

Photographs of the Chinese ships, taken by Philippine military airplanes, have been sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is in charge of filing diplomatic protests.

“There are ways of doing it, right now we are doing it legally,” Gazmin said. (John Roson)

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Fort San Felipe, Cavite City – The Philippines can fight back if threatened, President Benigno Aquino III said today, as tensions continued in seas north and west of the country.

“Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas, kaya nating pumalag sa tuwing may maninindak,” Aquino said in a speech at the Philippine Navy’s 115th anniversary here.

“Patuloy ang pagdagsa ng mga banta mula sa loob at labas ng bansa,” he said.

The President made the remarks five days after Taiwan conducted naval exercises in waters near Batanes on May 16.

The military drills came after Philippine Coast Guard personnel shot a Taiwan-registered boat near the same area, killing one fisherman.

Taiwan also recalled its de-facto envoy to Manila and froze the hiring of Filipino workers, prompting Aquino to apologize for the shooting.

Some observers say Taiwan could be using the shooting issue to bring forward talks that are aimed at getting rights to fish in Philippine waters.

“At the end of the day, what they want is a fishing concession. They want to poach legally in our waters,” a former military official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Currently, Taiwan fishermen are “borrowing” permits from some Filipinos so they can fish in Philippine waters, the official said.

Authorities usually let the Taiwanese go after seeing the permits, he added.

Aquino told reporters that the government will first finish probing the shooting incident before engaging Taiwan in any fisheries talks.

“‘Yung sa fisheries ay ating pinaaaral rin ‘yung mga limitasyon natin. ‘Yung guarding the national patrimony provisions of the Constitution will come into play,” he said.

Aside from Taiwan, the Philippines is also facing issues with China over the latter’s fishing trips to the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese are fishing at Ayungin shoal, one of the Philippines’ territories in the Spratly Islands, “escorted” by a vessel of their navy, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said. (John Roson)

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Fort San Felipe, Cavite City – Chinese are fishing at Ayungin shoal, one of the Philippines’ territories in the Spratly Islands, “escorted” by a vessel of their navy, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said today.

“Nangingisda sila sa loob ng teritoryo natin,” Gazmin told reporters after attending the Philippine Navy anniversary rites here.

“Mayroon silang flag, Chinese,” the defense chief said.

Gazmin said the Philippines will deal with the issue “calmly,” by filing a diplomatic protest through the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“Gagawin natin sa mahinahong paraan, para hindi tayo mukhang naghahamon,” he said. (John Roson)

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The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday said it fired upon one of four Taiwanese fishing vessels that entered the country’s territorial waters, leaving one fisherman dead.

Coast Guard commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said the shooting occurred around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, while a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel (MCS 3001) operated by PCG personnel was patrolling the Balintang Channel off Batanes.

The PCG personnel encountered four foreign fishing vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and tried to board one of them, but another “repeatedly tried to ram our MCS,” Isorena said in a statement.

He said this prompted the Coast Guard personnel on board the MCS to fire “warning shots” and later on, shoot the vessel’s machinery portion “to disable” it.

“While the maneuver is happening, our MCS detected the presence of unidentified grey and white ships, forcing them to withdraw and return back to port,” Isorena said.

He said the personnel on board the MCS were not able to immediately verify what happened to the fishing vessel, and the PCG only learned Friday that one of the Taiwanese fishermen died.

Isorena said that while the PCG considers the incident as “very unfortunate,” more effort will be done to secure the country’s waters.

“Efforts will be instituted to prevent similar occurrences. The government will increase our visibility in the area to prevent future incursion of our waters,” the PCG chief said.

“We sympathize with the family of the fisherman who died and we assure them of a transparent and impartial investigation. The PCG will relieve all personnel on board MCS 3001 of their duties while the investigation is ongoing,” he added.

Earlier, China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency earlier reported that a Filipino “military ship” opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing boat on Thursday, about 180 nautical miles southeast of Erluanbi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan.

“After killing the fisherman, the Filipino military ship continued to chase and fire in bursts at the Taiwanese vessel,” Xinhua said, citing information from Taiwan’s fishing authority and media.

Maj. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Armed Forces’ public affairs office, said that contrary to the report, the incident involved a “Coast Guard-controlled” BFAR vessel.

Zagala, however, said the incident occurred within the Philippines’ “territorial waters.”

“Since the incident occurred within our territorial waters, it is therefore within the jurisdiction of our coast guard,” Zagala said in a statement.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Navy’s spokesman for issues in the West Philippine Sea, also denied Xinhua’s report.

Commodore Nodolfo Tejada, commander of the Naval Forces Northern Luzon, reported Thursday night that all Navy vessels under his command were in ports in Subic or Sual, Pangasinan, Arevalo said. (John Roson)

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Just call it Sabah – DFA

Government agencies and the public should call Sabah by its own name alone, without annexing it to Malaysia, a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official reminded Monday.

Attorney Roy Ecraela, of the DFA’s Office of the Undersecretary of Special and Ocean Concerns, made the reminder in a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) meeting chaired by Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin.

“All government agencies are directed to refer to Sabah as just Sabah, without referring to it as Sabah, Malaysia,” Ecraela said, citing Memorandum Circular No. 162 issued by MalacaƱang in 2008.

The memorandum is consistent with Republic Act 5446 or the Baselines Law and a Supreme Court ruling issued on July 16, 2011, Ecraela noted.

Member-agencies of the NDRRMC met Monday to discuss aid for Filipinos who left Sabah amid Malaysian troops’ operations against followers of the Sultanate of Sulu.

During the meeting, the Department of Social Welfare and Development made a presentation of the services it provided to people who left “Sabah, Malaysia.”

This prompted a Coast Guard official to ask if there were already changes to government policies in referring to the state, where the Philippines has an existing claim.

The claim stems from the Sultanate of Sulu’s historical ownership of North Borneo, which it received as payment from a sultan of Brunei and later leased to a British company.

Consistency pushed

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ecraela said the DFA also encourages the public, including the media, to be “consistent” with the government’s stand on Sabah.

He noted that some television reports referred to Sabah as if the Philippines already abandoned its claim.

“Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Tanggalin na ‘yung Malaysia,” Ecraela said, giving an example of how to name Sabah locations in news articles.

Asked if this meant that security forces should not say things such as “border patrols,” Ecraela said, ”Yung nakagawian natin, minsan iba rin talaga ‘yung reality.”

No evacuees, just ‘displaced persons’

During the meeting, the NDRRMC also agreed to call Filipinos who fled the fighting and military operations in Sabah as “displaced persons.”

Gazmin said NDRRMC member-agencies had been using different terms so he asked them how to differentiate one from the other or at least find a proper term.

Ecraela said Filipinos who left Sabah should not be called evacuees, refugees, or even returnees since they regard the state only as a neighboring province or town.

Fore people in southern provinces Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan, there are “false borders or no borders at all,” he said.

“For centuries, people consider this movement as crossing from one town to another… Para lang silang mga taga-Pampanga na nagtatrabaho sa Manila,” Ecraela said.

Displaced folk nearing 4,000

Ramon Santos, director of the Office of Civil Defense in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said 3,693 Filipinos have arrived from Sabah as of March 23.

An additional 186 displaced persons arrived Monday afternoon, he said.

The OCD-ARMM is currently prepared to assist 100,000 displaced persons, Santos said. (John Roson)

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The Armed Forces plans to deploy additional Marine troops and equipment to Palawan amid Chinese military buildup in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Lt.Col. Neil Estrella, spokesman of the Armed Forces Western Command, said plans are afoot to set up a Marine brigade headquarters that will support the two battalions already in the province.

“The Marines now is realigning its troops, particularly sa requirement natin doon sa territorial defense,” he said.

The brigade headquarters, which will be set up at a still undiclosed place, is expected to enhance the two battalions’ capability in drawing out more troops from other areas, artillery, air support, tanks, and other assets.

“‘Yung dalawang Marine battalion natin kasi kinakailangan may suporta, ang suporta niya kailangan manggaling sa isang brigade. Ang isang brigade mayroong armor, mayroong artillery, may mga support unit,” Estrella said.

The plan comes amid China’s building up of military installations and deployment of maritime surveillance vessels to the disputed Spratly Islands.

The island group, located about 200 nautical miles west of Palawan and said to be rich in mineral and oil, is being claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.

US troops to come in too?

Earlier, a foreign news wire agency quoted a senior Philippine Marine official as saying that there are also plans to expand an airstrip in Palawan to accommodate big US military planes, and set up an “advance command post” manned by both Philippine and US Marine troops.

Estrella denied hearing anything on the supposed plan, saying what was clear was it was the local Marines who will be beefing up forces.

The regional military spokesperson said he also learned of a plan to develop the airport in Puerto Princesa City, for “civilian use.”

“Talaga namang ide-develop ‘yung airport natin doon. Ikaw ba naman, ‘yung airport 20 to 22 flights a day lang eh ang sikip na. Pagagandahin talaga ‘yung airport pero hindi para sa military,” he said. (John Roson)

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