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Security, maritime patrols beefed up in West Phl Sea

MANILA, Philippines - The government has increased its security and maritime patrols in the hotly contested West Philippine Sea to secure and protect the country’s economic interests and address human trafficking and other forms of transnational crimes.

Maj. Neil Estrella, spokesman of the military’s Western Command, said that in recent months, air and naval operations have doubled over the area due to the involvement of other concerned government agencies.

“Due to growing economic and security concerns over the area by other government agencies, our operations have doubled in recent months not only to check on intruders but also those who are engaged in illegal fishing, illegal poaching, human trafficking and other forms of transnational crimes,” Estrella said.

Estrella was referring to the active involvement of the Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the increased security and maritime activities by Wescom in the West Philippine Sea.

Insofar as foreign intrusions in the country’s territorial waters in the hotly contested region are concerned, Estrella said these violations have declined significantly and these intrusions simply involved civilian boats, particularly fishing vessels.

Early this year, the country’s territorial claim over the West Philippine Sea was repeatedly put to test by other claimant-countries, particularly China and Vietnam.

Following the intrusions of two Chinese naval gunboats in March in the Reed Bank basin, Estrella said it’s not only Wescom that went into action but also the entire government leadership to protect the country’s territorial waters and its underlying economic interests.

The Reed Bank basin is believed to contain huge natural gas deposits.

“If there were intrusions now, it would be minimal and likely to involve (foreign) fishermen,” Estrella said.

Aside from the usual patrolling by Navy, Coast Guard and BFAR vessels, local fishermen have also been actively helping Wescom in monitoring the presence of foreign vessels in the country’s territorial waters.

On the fight against transnational crimes, Estrella said the Wescom, under Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, is fully implementing the Fleet-Marine concept with the deployment of Marines to guard and patrol the country’s territorial border with Malaysia.

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By Jaime Laude The Philippine Star Updated December 02, 2011 12:00 AM

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