MANILA -- Over a hundred Chinese ships have left the waters off Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the South China Sea after Manila lodged a diplomatic protest over their presence, the military said Tuesday.
Some 140 Chinese ships surrounded the Filipino-occupied island in July, with the number going down to 115 after the onslaught of tropical depression Falcon.
"Hindi namin alam kung anong dahilan pero mula noong mga 4 na araw, wala na kaming namo-monitor na Chinese fishing vessel or any Chinese vessel nandoon sa area na yun," VADM Rene Medina, head of the military's Western Command, told reporters.
(We don't know the reason, but for the past 4 days, we have not monitored any Chinese fishing vessel in that area.)
"We are also working with Joint Task Force West to conduct patrol so that we can also verify in any areas of West Philippine Sea kung saan sila," he added.
The Wescom had recommended last week's filing of diplomatic protests in connection with the Chinese swarm and the passage of Chinese warships through Sibutu Strait in the Philippines' southern tip without prior clearance.
The Wescom also has jurisdiction over Palawan province, where 2 Chinese nationals were allegedly caught taking photos inside the the Parola naval facility, while a new military ship was berthed there last July 23.
The Chinese nationals were tourists and had no ill intention, said Naval Forces West commander Cdre. Sean Anthony Villa.
"Kung sasabihin mo na may ibang may intention I don't think na pupunta siya na harap-harapan, makikita 'yung mukha niya, papasok siya doon," told reporters.
(If you say that they had ill intention, I don't think he show his face as he entered the facility. I don't think spying was the intention.)
"I don't think na 'yun (spying) ang intention," he added.
The Navy has coordinated with the local tourism office because the map it gave to tourists included the military base, said the official.
Beijing claims large parts of the South China Sea through which roughly $3.4 trillion in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest the territorial claims. With a report from Reuters
Manila continues to strengthen its position in the West Philippine Sea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said last week, adding that 5 lighthouses have already been put up, with 5 more in the way.
The Philippines will also have its own high-flying unmanned aerial vehicle with a direct access to satellite imagery to help in this effort, he said.