MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has filed a protest against what it describes as the “provocative and illegal” deployment of Chinese ships around Ayungin Shoal, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group off Palawan.
“On May 10, 2013, we filed with the Chinese embassy in Manila our protest on the provocative and illegal presence of Chinese government ships (two CMS and one warship) around Ayungin Shoal,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said yesterday.
Hernandez said Ayungin Shoal is an integral part of the Philippine national territory. It is located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan and constitutes part of the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine continental shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“We have already told them our position regarding these vessels which have intruded in our exclusive economic zone,” Hernandez said.
The Philippines called on China to respect the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its continental shelf, including the waters around the shoal.
“China’s interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law particularly UNCLOS, the United Nations Charter and the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea),” Hernandez said.
“The fishing vessels are still there and they go around the place and that is why we have been asking the Chinese authorities to respect our sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone because the resources in our exclusive economic zones are meant for the Filipino people,” he said.
Chinese fishing vessels reportedly encroached on Ayungin Reef and began erecting metal and rope structures there.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin also revealed a Chinese naval ship has been escorting fishing boats involved in illegal fishing off Ayungin Reef.
“They (Chinese fishermen) have activities there… they are fishing inside our (territory),” Gazmin said when asked about the presence of Chinese vessels in the reef.
“They are escorted by a naval ship,” he added.
Gazmin said the China flags they were flying identified the vessels.
Gazmin said the government could file a diplomatic protest to resolve the matter peacefully.
“We will resort to peaceful means to avoid provoking other countries,” he said.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano confirmed the presence of foreign fishing vessels in Ayungin Reef.
“There are several (foreign vessels) in the area. We are still trying to validate how many and where exactly they are but they have also fishing boats there. We have fishing boats there,” he said.
Ayungin Reef is one of the areas occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the subject of a long-standing territorial row in the region.
Last week, a Chinese ship chased a utility boat of Kalayaan Island town with 147 civilians that included the group of town mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.
The Chinese vessel reportedly started chasing the Queen Seagull utility boat while it was passing by Ayungin Reef on Wednesday.
Bito-onon said the Chinese vessel, which came from the eastern side of the reef, used its powerful floodlights and sailed toward their boat several times.
The Chinese warship reportedly came as close as 50 meters to their boat.
The chase, which reportedly lasted for about an hour, ended when the Queen Seagull reached the area around Half Moon Shoal, where a Chinese gunboat got stuck last year.
Gazmin said they are still awaiting an official report on the chase, the latest bullying incident involving Chinese ships.
“I just read about it in the papers. When I was (informed) about that, we told them to come up with a documented report,” he said.
Once a report is submitted, Gazmin said it would be submitted to the DFA for the filing of a diplomatic protest.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, a view that the Philippines has labeled as “excessive and exaggerated.” Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the region.
China has rejected calls to settle the dispute through an international tribunal and continues to conduct activities that Philippine officials said intrude into the country’s sovereignty.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said China had repeatedly refused to acknowledge international arbitration to resolve maritime dispute with the Philippines.
He said China’s participation in the arbitration is not necessary.
“As far as we are concerned, the train has left the station. Either China is on board or they are not. But as I said this is a compulsory arbitration. The award will come down whether or not China is with us,” he said.
Del Rosario said Manila takes a position that China continues to violate the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Philippines as it sent one of its largest fleets.
“We really should take a good look at the options that are available to us with the objective of being able to select an appropriate response, but I would like to say that in doing that, however, we would like everyone to know that no one should underestimate the strength of our resolve in terms of defending what is ours,” he added.
Del Rosario also emphasized the issue and the challenge in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), which is one of the immediate reasons why the Philippines filed the arbitration.
He said intelligence reports showed there were five Chinese vessels – four maritime surveillance vessels and one fisheries enforcement vessel – in Panatag Shoal.
The Philippines resorted to initiating arbitral proceedings under the UNCLOS to clarify the country’s maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.
The case concerns China’s interpretation and application of UNCLOS, specifically its nine-dash line claim which interferes with the lawful exercise by the Philippines of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
The president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) appointed last month the remaining three members of the five-member UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal, including its chairman that will hear the Statement of Claim filed by the Philippines against China on the West Philippine Sea.
Phl-Japan meeting held
Meanwhile, the Philippines and Japan held their sixth Political-Military Meeting in exchanging views on national security policies and current regional issues.
The delegations were led by DFA Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro and Defense Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessment Raymund Jose Quilop for the Philippines, while the Japanese were led by Ministry of Defense Deputy Director General Ro Manabe and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director General Kenji Kanasugi.
The delegations exchanged views on their respective countries’ national security policies and current regional issues.
Further cooperation on maritime security as well as disaster prevention and management were also discussed.
Defense department spokesman Peter Galvez said the meeting between the Japanese and Filipino officials highlighted the need to boost cooperation on maritime security.