ARMED Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Cirilito E. Sobejana on Wednesday said he has directed the deployment of more naval assets to the West Philippine Sea to monitor about 200 Chinese fishing vessels that massed at a reef within the Philippine territory.

“I directed the Philippine Navy to deploy additional naval assets to the West Philippine Sea to increase our visibility and ensure the security and safety of our fishermen. Of course our marine resources and integrity of our territory,” he told the Commission on Appointments.

“We do not tolerate incursions in our territorial waters from anybody,” he added.

In early February, Mr. Sobejana also ordered increased naval presence in the West Philippine Sea after China passed a new law authorizing its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels.

The commission on Wednesday approved the nomination of Mr. Sobejana to the rank of general as well as the nomination of six other officers and 26 ad interim appointments of senior officers in the armed forces.

The Philippine government on Sunday said it was concerned that more than 200 Chinese militia vessels had moored at the Whitsun Reef or Juan Felipe Reef. The vessels had no actual fishing activities and had full white lights on at night.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said the country filed a diplomatic protest against the activity. The Foreign Affairs department, in a statement on Tuesday, demanded China to withdraw the fishing vessels and maritime assets at the reef, saying it infringes on Philippine sovereignty.

Mr. Sobejana said the military had conducted maritime patrol in the area and counted 183 vessels at the reef, which were in a formation similar to fishing boats when at rest.

“But the number is quite substantial compared to the formation that I have observed in the Sulu seas. So we are trying to assess why they did such kind of a formation,” he said. 

They have also invited China’s defense attache to the Philippines on Wednesday to discuss the matter, Mr. Sobejana said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Monday said the reef is part of China’s Nansha Qundao and the Chinese vessels had taken shelter near the reef due to rough sea conditions. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas