Philippine warplanes fly over hundreds of Chinese fishing boats in disputed waters of South China Sea

This satellite photo taken on March 23 and received by Maxar Technologies on March 25, 2021, shows Chinese fishing boats anchored at Holy Spirit Reef, 320 kilometers (175 nautical miles) west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The Philippine defense secretary said the Philippine military is sending light warplanes to fly over hundreds of Chinese fishing boats in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. He reiterated his demand that Chinese fishing boats immediately withdraw from the waters.

The threat posed by what the Philippines describes as a swarm of more than 200 Chinese fishing boats it believes are operated by maritime militias is a growing international concern.

The fishing boats are moored at Whitsun Reef, which is within 200 nautical miles of Manila’s exclusive economic waters.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement issued Saturday evening that the Philippine military is sending military aircraft to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

Lorenzana said the Philippine military will also strengthen its naval presence in the South China Sea, having conducted “sovereign reconnaissance” and protected Filipino fishermen.

The Philippine defense chief said in a statement that Philippine air and maritime assets are ready to protect sovereignty.

Earlier, the Chinese Embassy in Manila had said the fishing boats were there to escape rough seas and that there were no militiamen on board.

A spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last week that Duterte reiterated to CCP Ambassador Huang Xilian that the Philippines won a landmark arbitration case in 2016 that clarified Philippine sovereignty over the waters, despite the CCP’s objections.