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Push back

Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has noted that an increased level of law enforcement and patrols by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea over the past year is a reflection of the country’s determination to assert its rights amid China’s continuing presence in the area.

“From March 1 to May 25, AMTI observed 13 Philippine law enforcement or military vessels paying a total of 57 visits to waters around the Spratly islands and Scarborough Shoal,” the think tank said in its report published May 26.

This is a significant increase from the three vessels that only made seven visits to the same features between May 2020 and February 2021.

AMTI clarified that these figures were based on naval vessels that can be tracked through their automatic identification system. It may have missed patrols by Philippine vessels that did not broadcast their location.

“The Philippines’ increased patrol efforts send a message that Manila is determined to assert its rights. But they pale in comparison to China’s near-permanent coastguard and militia presence throughout the South China Sea,” AMTI said.

While Philippine ships sail to these areas on “staggered tours,” Chinese vessels “operate as sentries” and stay in their positions for weeks at a time.

It added that Manila’s combination of more public protest and greater presence seems to have some success in dispersing Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef and Sabina Shoal but it hasn’t impacted the overall number of Chinese vessels operating in disputed waters.

The Philippines is already disadvantaged against China’s massive fleet and island building activities. Our inaction has also lost us a lot of territory and time. But if our government does what it can, such as running to an international tribunal in The Hague and filing a case which we won in 2016, and this current increase in law enforcement, patrols and diplomatic protests, we can still push back without risking a shooting war.

Hopefully, our government continues to protect the interests of Filipinos in those areas that fall under our exclusive economic zone and those disputed areas that China has been grabbing with impunity for years.*

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