Philippines files 2 more protests vs China over West Philippine Sea

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Philippines files 2 more protests vs China over West Philippine Sea
“The DFA lodged on April 21 two new diplomatic notes in protest of the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones,” the department said in a statement yesterday.
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MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has filed two more diplomatic protests against China over its vessels’ continued illegal presence in the West Philippine Sea.

“The DFA lodged on April 21 two new diplomatic notes in protest of the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones,” the department said in a statement yesterday.

The two diplomatic protests were the latest among the scores filed almost daily against China for the continued presence of its vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, the DFA said.

As of April 20, Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies observed the continued unauthorized presence and activities of a total of 160 Chinese fishing vessels and Chinese maritime militia vessels in Philippine waters, it said.

“The continued swarming and threatening presence of the Chinese vessels creates an atmosphere of instability and is a blatant disregard of the commitments by China to promote peace and stability in the region,” the DFA said.

The vessels were observed within the territorial sea of high tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group and in and around the waters of Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal within the country’s exclusive economic zone or EEZ.

Meanwhile, five Chinese coast guard vessels with bow numbers 3103, 3301, 3305, 5101 and 5203 were seen deployed within the vicinities of the Pag-asa Islands, Bajo de Masinloc and Ayungin Shoal, the DFA said.

The DFA said the presence of these vessels “blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

In its protests, the DFA reminded China that Bajo de Masinloc, Pag-asa Islands, Panata, Parola, Kota Islands, Chigua and Burgos reefs are integral parts of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction.

The Philippines, it said, exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Julian Felipe Reef and Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippines has been demanding that China adhere to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral ruling, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

It has also reminded China of its commitments under the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in particular the exercise of self-restraint in order to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the ongoing negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Under international law, foreign vessels are permitted to make “innocent passage” through a country’s EEZ.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes each year.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and features.

President Duterte said on Monday he was prepared to deploy navy ships to assert the country’s sovereign rights to oil and mineral resources in its EEZ, telling China that if it started drilling for oil, so will he.

Speaking for Duterte

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his demand for the pullout of Chinese vessels from Philippine waters was a reflection of President Duterte’s firm stand against China’s acts of provocation.

“That is the line of thinking of the President. He need not come out and say anything because we, as his alter ego, are speaking for the government,” Lorenzana told The STAR.

He also said the filing of diplomatic protests against Beijing by the DFA should also be considered acts of Duterte himself.

“Narinig ba natin na nag salita si Xi Jinping? In fact spokesman lang ministry of defense ang nagsasalita (Have you heard Xi Jinping himself speak? In fact only the spokesman of the ministry of defense does the talking),” Lorenzana stressed.

He said detractors of the President are trying to drive a wedge between him and his Cabinet to make him look ineffective.

“But he is not. That’s the mark of true leadership – not micromanaging,” Lorenzana pointed out.

“Those diplomatic protests are permanent records of our disagreements with China. Not having those protests is like us willingly giving up our sovereign rights over our EEZ. We can be aggressive but would also pursue diplomacy,” he said.

Lorenzana confirmed that the country is planning to build more lighthouses and fueling stations in the West Philippine Sea to help Filipino fishermen as well as other sea travelers in the area.

Meanwhile, in a statement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque denied Duterte has entered into a fishing agreement with Xi, contradicting a 2019 statement of previous Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo that an “informal” but “binding” deal existed.

“There is no truth to the speculation of a purported ‘verbal fishing agreement’ between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and President Xi Jinping, nor that Chinese vessels were encouraged to stay in West Philippine Sea despite the diplomatic protests and strongly-worded statements of Philippine government officials,” Roque said.

Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic of Duterte’s handling of the West Philippine Sea row, has claimed that the Chinese government is not taking the Philippines’ diplomatic protests seriously because of its fishing agreement with Duterte.

“This is without basis and is quite simply, conjecture,” Roque said of Carpio’s statement. – Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Artemio Dumlao, Reuters

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