PH, US Eye Joint Patrol In WPS

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Amb. Romualdez: It’s on the table; Amb. Carlson: We work with PCG

The United States and the Philippines are eyeing joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said combined maritime activities between the Philippines and the US are “vitally important” to enhance the country’s safety and security.

This was echoed by Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez who said that serious talks on the joint patrol are “on the table.”

“So many fisherfolks have their lives wrapped up in fishing so the United States wants to do everything possible. There is an array of activities we can do. We are certainly working very closely with the Philippine Coast Guard in that regard,” she said.

“So whether it’s joint patrol or any activities…the important thing is it is done in conjunction with our Philippine partners,” Carlson added.

Romualdez said “more activities as far as our defense cooperation with the US is concerned” will materialize in the next months.

“It’s part of the program and I think we are going to have these enhanced patrols in the West Philippine Sea fairly quickly,” Romualdez said.

“It’s on the table. We will let you know and I’m sure you will know when the joint patrols will take place…We have our joint exercises so joint patrols [are] also part and parcel of that agreement that we have with the United States,” he added.

For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday declared that Filipino fishers who were driven away by Chinese coast guard vessels from the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal have the right to fish in the area and “take whatever they are due” according to Philippine and international law.

The DFA said it has yet to receive official reports from the military and law enforcement agencies on the China Coast Guard’s actions to force Filipino fishers to leave the Ayungin Shoal last week.

The reports will serve as the basis for diplomatic action, the DFA said.

“Ayungin Shoal is part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines. The Philippines is entitled to exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the area without any intervention from another country,” the DFA said.

The harassment of Filipino fishers in Ayungin, also called Second Thomas Shoal, came days after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to establish a hotline between Manila and Beijing to prevent an escalation of tensions in the South China Sea.

Marcos earlier said the Philippines had used the hotline following the Ayungin incident, but it was unclear how the Chinese side had responded.

A Philippine naval vessel—the BRP Sierra Madre—has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The Philippines says this means it has established a permanent presence on the shoal.

The shoal is 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The department vigilantly monitors any developments in the West Philippine Sea, especially following the discussions between President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to China,” the DFA said.

In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s legal basis for its vast claim in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. Manila won the case in a landmark award in 2016 after the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s assertions.

But China has ignored and belittled the ruling, maintaining an “indisputable” and “historical” claim over nearly the entire waters even as it encroaches on the territories of its smaller neighbors like the Philippines.

For years, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China have been locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a vital sea lane where oil and natural gas have been discovered.

Marcos earlier expressed hope that the incident would reach Xi, who recently vowed to find a “compromise” on Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone and upheld by the 2016 Arbitral Ruling rendered by the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration

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