MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is verifying reports that China is requiring fishermen to ask for its permission to operate in the vast waters south of China, including the West Philippines Sea.
Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Peter Galvez said the Philippines is ready to protect its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from the country's shores.
"All countries are free to enforce fishing rules within their own exclusive economic zone. The defense establishment is ready to assist in enforcing the maritime rules in the Philippines EEZ," Galvez said.
"We will enforce the protection of our resources," he added.
Manila filed before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) a historic arbitration on the territorial dispute, following Beijing's aggressiveness in the South China Sea. (READ: Hearings on PH, China dispute begin)
Tension has marked territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines is among 6 countries claiming islands in the Spratlys, locally known as the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
The vast waters is a strategic area for military operations and is believed to be rich in oil.
In April 2012, the Panatag Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) located off the coast of Zambales province was also the site of a tense standoff between Philippines and China ships. The Philippines sent warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar although it was later pulled out. (READ: PH Navy in standoff with Chinese ships)
Amid growing tension in the region, the Armed Forces of the Phiippines (AFP) is shifting its focus from fighting insurgents to territorial defense.
"We are continuing our modernization program. We are acquiring assets to improve our capability to patrol and secure our national territory.... We are looking at more air assets and water craft to be able to address this particular situation," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Tuesday, January 7, on the sidelines of the joint DND-AFP New Year's Call.
Northen Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang said the situation in Panatag is "relatively quiet," although they continue to monitor Chinese coastguard ships passing by the area. – Rappler.com