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House leader calls for more US patrols in WPS

Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday urged the United States (US) to conduct more frequent freedom of navigation (FON) operations or patrols in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, Rodriguez cited a report of the US Navy that one of its carrier strike groups entered the South China Sea last April 4 amid strong protests from the Philippines on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in Juan Felipe Reef, which is inside the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Rodriguez noted that the April 4 passage was the second patrol by the US Navy this year.

He said conducting more FON operations could deter further Chinese incursions in the Philippine EEZ and threats to other US allies in the region.

“Two FON patrols in more than three months. They should criss-cross that area more often to challenge China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, including international waters and a large part of the Philippine EEZ,” Rodriguez said.“They should support their statements of support for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute with actual actions on the ground.”

He said that such a move would also show the readiness of the United States to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of conflict as provided under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.

He also called for stronger and more explicit statements on the West Philippine Sea issue on the part of the US.

“Professions of support for Manila in very general language no longer suffice and are just being ignored by the party to which they are directed. There has to be a more direct statement or a warning that the other party will understand,” he said.

Julian Felipe Reef, a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), is located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The Philippines on March 21 lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of around 200 Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reed in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

China earlier said the spotted Chinese boats off Julian Felipe Reef were merely taking refuge due to rough sea conditions.

However, the Chinese Embassy in Manila on April 3 justified the Chinese vessels’ presence at the Julian Felipe Reef, calling it Niu’e Jiao and part of China’s Nansha Islands.

On Monday night, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a maritime patrol will be conducted anew this week to check whether there are still Chinese ships off Julian Felipe Reed.

Lorenzana’s latest statement came after he recently noted that around 44 Chinese vessels have yet to leave the reef in WPS even if the weather in the vicinity has already improved. (PNA)

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