Lorenzana: China encroaching on Philippine waters
“Their claims according to their so-called historical rights have no basis,” he said, noting that the Philippines, on the contrary, has two international documents proving that the area belongs to the country.

Lorenzana: China encroaching on Philippine waters

Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana countered China’s latest claims of sovereignty over islands and features in the West Philippine Sea yesterday, emphasizing that it is the Chinese who are encroaching on Philippine waters.

“Their claims according to their so-called historical rights have no basis,” he said, noting that the Philippines, on the contrary, has two international documents proving that the area belongs to the country.

“Therefore, it is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave,” Lorenzana said in reaction to China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s pronouncements on Monday.

“China enjoys sovereignty over Nansha (Spratly) Islands including Zhongye (Thitu) Island and Zhongsha Islands including Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) and their adjacent waters, and exercises jurisdiction in relevant waters,” the Chinese official said at a press conference. “We urge the relevant side to respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.”

Lorenzana stressed that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory, and the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) award clearly contradict China’s assertions.

“The UNCLOS gave us sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources of an area measured 200 nautical miles from our mainland,” he said. “The arbitral award has categorically stated that the Chinese claim bounded by their so-called nine-dash line according their ‘historical right’ has no basis in fact.”

The Philippine government has filed several diplomatic protests questioning the continued presence of Chinese maritime militia and Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in Julian Felipe Reef and other islands and features in the area.

The Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have increased patrols and presence in the West Philippine Sea.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said it is perfectly right for the Philippines to conduct exercises in the West Philippine Sea following opposition from China over the recent conduct of drills.

“It is our exclusive economic zone. It is even done within our territorial seas, 12 nautical miles beyond our shorelines. We can perfectly do it within our EEZ,” he said in an interview yesterday on CNN Philippines.

Esperon said the Philippines will continue to enforce local fishery laws and international laws inside the West Philippine Sea, and that the administration is open to developing more structures but the country is prioritizing the improvement of its nine current detachments to budget its resources well.

He denied that President Duterte had a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing them to fish in the disputed waters, unlike the fisheries agreement the country has with Vietnam.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) led by Esperon reported yesterday the continued illegal presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the NTF-WPS said the three Chinese Coast Guard vessels were in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, a CCG vessel in municipality of Kalayaan and another in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

“These incursions are under review for the possible filing of appropriate diplomatic actions,” the task force said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ordered yesterday the filing of another diplomatic protest against China, saying the Philippines must not fail to protest the continued illegal presence of Chinese vessels in Philippine territorial waters.

“They can say what they want from the Chinese mainland; we continue to assert from our waters by right of international law what we won in The Hague,” Locsin said on Twitter, referring to the arbitral ruling.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed several diplomatic protests questioning the presence of Chinese vessels and demanding their pullout.

Blasting Beijing

Senators blasted Beijing for having the gall to demand the Philippines stop activities and exercises in the West Philippine Sea when China has long been violating the country’s sovereign rights and international law.

“We will, if they stop too,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the committee on national defense and security, called for a second look at the country’s policy towards China given its latest intrusions in the West Philippine Sea. “More than being offensive, it is the ultimate insult to our national dignity. Maybe it is time to review our foreign policy with respect to our diplomatic relations with China,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto stressed it is China that has been militarizing the West Philippine Sea with its island-building activities and expanding its presence using militia vessels that are destabilizing the region.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said China’s intrusions and demand to the country were in total disregard of the 2016 arbitral award which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

Sen. Nancy Binay said the Philippines will always be committed to working for a peaceful solution beyond the military realm, “but we cannot just allow any country to diminish our sovereignty… we cannot let the bullying continue by remaining scared and silent.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros clarified that China should respect the Philippines’ sovereignty and not the other way around.

At the House of Representatives, allies of President Duterte as well as militant lawmakers sounded the alarm over Chinese intrusion on Philippine seas and urged the government to take action.

“They should leave the WPS. They are the interloper,” Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City said, insisting that Chinese ships in the area should not be anywhere around “because that is not part of their exclusive economic zone.”

“In contrast, up north, Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc to Filipino fishermen, is just 120 miles off the coast of Zambales and Pangasinan. They (Chinese) are in control of it despite the fact that it is within our EEZ,” he said yesterday in a television interview.

Rodriguez also pointed out that “down south, or the now much-reported Julian Felipe Reef, which is 175 miles from Bataraza, Palawan, where they still maintain presence despite our repeated protests, is also part of our EEZ.”

“So they are claiming and occupying a large part of the sea that should exclusively belong to us under international law, and illegally taking resources from it. They are the ones complicating the situation, not us,” the House leader added.

The House leader described as “ridiculous” China’s remarks that ships from the PCG and the BFAR should leave the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, the Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate specifically urged the PCG to escort Filipino fishermen in the disputed areas.

“We have to show China that we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory. Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China,” Zarate stressed in a statement.

“China is apparently treating the Duterte administration as a pushover by doing what they want in Bajo de Masinloc and the rest of the West Philippine Sea without nary a whimper from President Duterte,” the congressman said. “We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Duterte to stand up for our fisherfolk and our territory.”

In the same statement, the Makabayan bloc slammed the plans of the United States and its allies to intensify and expand naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea in a bid to challenge China’s military build-up in the area, a situation which Zarate described as “saber-rattling.” – Romina Cabrera, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay, Pia Lee-Brago, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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