MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines has monitored an extraordinary surge of vessels from a Chinese fishing fleet around Philippine-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea this year.
More than 600 Chinese fishing vessels have been recorded surrounding the sandbars of Pag-asa Island (Thitu) for the first quarter of 2019 alone.
“Foreign vessels monitored in Pag-as Island are all Chinese fishing vessels deployed in the vicinity of the sandbar,” said Marine Lt. Col. Elpidio Factor, AFP Western Command’s assistant chief for Unified Command Staff for Intelligence, at the Regional Development Council and Regional Peace and Order Council special meeting last Thursday.
The highest number of Chinese vessels recorded in a single day was at 87 last Feb. 10.
“These vessels are considered as Chinese maritime militia that are occasionally complemented by the Chinese Coast Guard to sustain China’s assertive presence in the vicinity of the sandbars,” Factor said.
There are three sandbars between Pag-asa and China-controlled Zamora Reef (Subi Reef), one of the biggest military outposts in the Spratly Islands.
Early this month, Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo raised his concerns on the presence of the Chinese vessels around the sandbars, which he said are blocking the path of local fishermen.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military in 2017 to stop the construction of a shelter supposedly for Filipino fishermen on Sandy Cay, one of the three sandbars, after China protested because of a previous agreement not to occupy new features in the South China Sea.
The government also previously played down reports of Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano on the presence of Chinese fishing vessels around Pag-asa in 2017.