A GROUP of fishers on Thursday asked the Philippine government to send its navy to drive away Chinese vessels in the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“It is without a doubt that the vessels detected to be lingering in our territory are Chinese-owned,” Fernando L. Hicap, national chairman of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said in an e-mailed statement.

China has been unnecessarily occupying areas of the sea that are part of Philippine territory, the fisherfolk said. “They may be part of the 220 Chinese vessels spotted in Julian Felipe Reef last March.”

US-based geospatial intelligence firm Simularity said in a report that ships spotted within the Philippine economic zone from mid-May to June 17 had risen to 238 from 129.

It added that 236 ships had been spotted at Union Banks — a large atoll in the Spratly Islands — while 71 vessels were docked near Tizard Bank. Eleven ships were also located near Thitu Island.

Mr. Hicap said the Philippine Navy and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should look into reports about the growing presence of foreign vessels in Philippine waters.

He also criticized maritime authorities’ failure to prevent the entry of foreign vessels.

Mr. Hicap accused the government of kowtowing to foreign vessels that enter and exploit the country’s marine resources.

“Our maritime authorities seem to be sleeping in oblivion, while foreign vessels are rampantly entering our territorial waters for unspecified yet alarming reasons,” he said. Maritime authorities should act decisively by driving these vessels away, he added.

“We demand that these vessels be urgently expelled from our waters as they have been occupying the traditional fishing grounds of our fisherfolk,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said Filipino fishermen have continued to fish in the South China Sea due to heightened Philippine government presence.

The Fisheries bureau said 108 commercial fishing vessels from Bataan and Zambales, 20 from Pangasinan, 19 from Palawan and two from Occidental Mindoro have been fishing in the area since January.

It also said five monitoring, control and surveillance vessels and a multi-mission offshore vessel had been deployed in the Spratlys, while another surveillance vessel had been sent to the Scarborough Shoal area to protect Filipino fishermen.

The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China due to its intensified presence in the disputed area.

China refuses to honor an arbitral ruling in 2016 that rejected its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1940s nine-dash map.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. on Wednesday rejected attempts to undermine the 2016 decision by the international court

The arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines in the sea dispute is final, he said on the fifth anniversary of the ruling.

Mr. Locsin said the arbitral award “was given to a set of maritime circumstances that would be as true in our waters as in others.”

Mr. Locsin said that the arbitral award “became and continues to be a milestone in the corpus of international law.”

The jurisprudence is a Philippine gift to other countries and “benefits the world across the board.” Mr. Locsin said the country is committed to having a peaceful South China Sea. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave