Not long after the Philippines hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meetings, reports emerged that Chinese vessels have been gathering near Pag-Asa (Thitu) island in the West Philippine Sea. The source of the information is reportedly the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has been monitoring Chinese activities close to our land features in the area.
Magdalo Party-List Rep. Gary Alejano, a former decorated soldier with extensive contacts to former AFP colleagues, revealed the information during congressional hearings. The report is yet to be confirmed by other relevant government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Satellite imagery released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) appears to corroborate Alejano’s report.
DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, however, adopted a relatively a dismissive tone, downplaying the relevance of the reported converging of Chinese vessels near Pag-Asa, where we have a whole community, a mayor, and have maintained an airstrip with permanently stationed troops for at least four decades.
The DFA chief warned against exaggerating the issue, our supposed tendency of being “biased against Chinese ships,” and implied that China was likely engaged in standard Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations. He also implied that what China was doing in the area is analogous to what the United States has been doing in the West Philippine Sea.