WPS security assured with more assets

By Priam Nepomuceno

April 21, 2021, 11:17 pm

MANILA – The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) is coordinating for the deployment of more assets needed by Area Task Forces (ATF) in securing the country's control and sovereignty over the maritime territory.

"In compliance with the directive of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to sustain our sovereignty patrols in the WPS, increase the safety of life at sea operations and intensified operations against Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated Fishing (IUUF), the NTF WPS has coordinated for the deployment of more assets under the control of its ATF," NTF WPS spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Omar Romero, said in a statement Wednesday.

To augment the vessels and aircraft currently under the country of the ATFs, he said, the government has deployed four Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels, one PCG aircraft, five Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels for WPS maritime patrols, and Philippine National Police-Maritime Group (PNP-MG) high-speed tactical watercraft and rubber boats for maritime law enforcement in the coastal areas.

The Philippines, he said, has sovereignty over the features and the surrounding territorial seas in   Kalayaan, Palawan, and enjoys sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the West Philippine Sea.

9 island detachments

"ATF-West maintains nine island detachments in the Municipality of Kalayaan with the biggest contingent at Pag-asa Islands, the seat of the Municipality. Pag-asa Islands host the Rancudo Airfield which was built in 1978.,” he added. “ATF-West  covers  the Malampaya Gas Field and the resource-rich Recto Bank.”

Meanwhile, ATF-North covers Bajo de Masinloc, the islands north of Cagayan, Batanes  Province,  the  Philippine  Rise, and the latter’s  Extended Continental Shelf (ECS).

It also maintains detachments on the islands of Batanes.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through the Western and Northern Luzon Commands, continues to support law enforcement and sovereignty patrols of the BFAR, PCG, and PNP (Philippine National Police), utilizing Philippine Navy (PN), and Philippine Air Force (PAF) maritime and air assets under its disposal," Romero said.

Some nine detachments under Philippine control, he said, are continuously being developed to further strengthen the country's position in the WPS.

Other infra

"On Pag-asa, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) constructed a PHP 1.1 billion sheltered port and beaching ramp, while the PAF is overseeing the rehabilitation of the airstrip. These will greatly improve the transport of goods, people, and services in and out of Pag-asa, and boost investments in fisheries and seasonal tourism," he said.

A telecommunications company has facilities to provide cellular services and data connection to residents of Pag-asa.

"Moreover, to further enhance the communication services,  the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is developing a facility to provide free  Wi-Fi internet coverage over the whole island. 

"To promote the safety of navigation, the PCG has constructed five lighthouses at the following features: Pag-asa, Patag (Flat) Island, Panata Island, Parola Island (Northeast Cay), and Likas (West York) Island. The PN has provided desalination and solar-powered lighting facilities for these features in support of our law enforcers stationed at the detachments," Romero said.

PhP8.8-B development

He added that for other medium-term developments, the government is presently undertaking a PHP8.869-billion development program, consistent with the overall plan of the Palawan Council for Sustainable  Development, for the environmental protection,  security,  safety, and sustainable development in Kalayaan. 

The BFAR, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR),  Department of the Interior and Local Government, and local government units shall collectively implement, as mandated,  the establishment of Fishery Management Areas.

The DENR, he said, has further proposed the declaration of a marine protected landscape and seascape covering the Pag-asa Islands and eastern parts of the Kalayaan Island Group.

Whole-of-Nation approach

"The foregoing whole-of-nation approach to protect our national interest in the WPS manifests the firm rejection of the Philippine Government of any attempt to undermine the 2016 Arbitral Award. We are exhausting all means possible to protect our territory and EEZ," Romero said.

It can be recalled that Duterte declared before the UN  General Assembly on September 22, 2020, and during the ASEAN Summit on November 2020, that the 2016 Arbitral Award is “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” at the same time affirming the  Philippines’ commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.

The NTF WPS remains firm in upholding sovereignty over its territory as mandated by the Constitution, and protecting the country's sovereign rights over the Philippine  EEZ  in accordance with international law, he added in the statement. (PNA)