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Contradicting govât agencies, Palace says Julian Felipe Reef not within Philippines' EEZ
This handout satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2021 and received on March 25 from Maxar Technologies shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef, around 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Bataraza in Palawan in the South China Sea. Chinese vessels gathered near a disputed reef in the South China Sea are "fishing boats" sheltering from poor weather, the foreign ministry said March 22, a day after the Philippines described their presence as an incursion.
AFP/Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies, Handout

Contradicting gov’t agencies, Palace says Julian Felipe Reef not within Philippines' EEZ

(Philstar.com) - May 11, 2021 - 6:43pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:14 p.m.) — Julian Felipe Reef is not actually within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, Malacañang said Tuesday, undermining previous statements made by government agencies that have condemned the outsized presence of Chinese ships in the area. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said this amid heightened scrutiny of the Duterte administration's policy towards China and its unrelenting incursions in the West Philippine Sea. 

Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef lies some 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, well within the 200 nautical miles of the Philippine baseline which comprises the country's EEZ as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) in March sounded the alarm over some 220 Chinese militia vessels massed within the vicinity of the reef, prompting the Department of Foreign Affairs to file daily diplomatic protests and the Department of National Defense to send assets to the area. 

The forceful response stemmed largely from a consensus position among top officials, as evidenced by several statements and even heated exchanges between Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and China's envoy to the Philippines, that the reef is well within the country's EEZ. 

But Roque during a briefing broke from this consensus, saying in Filipino: "Because you know, [Julian Felipe Reef is] not even part of our EEZ, is it... It's outside. Its that far." 

In a statement released later Tuesday, Roque said Julian Felipe Reef "should be delimited under [UNCLOS] given the overlaps of maritime zones." 

"The basis of our claim is that while Julian Felipe Reef is indeed within our 200 nautical miles of EEZ, it nonetheless forms part of the territorial sea generated by two High Tide Elevations (HTEs) currently occupied by China (Mckennan) and Vietnam (Sin Cowe)," Roque said.

"We reiterate that the Philippines has claim – and has never abandoned our claim -- over Julian Felipe Reef by virtue of a Presidential Decree issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos saying it is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands." 

"Per the 2016 SCS Arbitral Award, these HTEs generate a Territorial Sea, which is prior to an EEZ under the UNCLOS." 

Presidential Decree 1596 defining the Kalayaan Island Group was issued years before the Philippines became a signatory to UNCLOS in 1982. 

In 2012, the Aquino administration, through Administrative Order No. 29, named the following areas within the country's exclusive economic zone as the West Philippine Sea:

"The maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago are hereby named as the West Philippine Sea. These areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal."

"I have never claimed that Felipe reef is not ours," Roque said in his statement. 

"[I]t is in our country's interest to continuously pursue our claim through diplomacy or in the future, by submitting it to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice." 

Roque: Philippines was 'never in possession' of Julian Felipe Reef 

Roque during his regular press briefing also dismissed concerns raised over Julian Felipe Reef as politically motivated exaggerations from administration "enemies" even though it is members of President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet who have been most outspoken over the presence of Chinese ships in the area. 

READ: Top diplomat Locsin swears at China online, tells nation to leave West Philippine Sea | Lorenzana: China encroaching on Philippine waters

The truth is, Roque said, the Philippines has "never been in possession" of the reef, echoing Duterte's statement that the country "lost" possession of the West Philippine Sea to China. 

READ: Carpio to 'sleeping' Duterte: China is not in possession of West Philippine Sea

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate defense panel, warned that Duterte's contradicting statements on the West Philippine Sea diminish statements of his secretaries as the president is the chief architect of the country's foreign policy. 

Roque, however, insisted that he was not weakening the Philippines' position on Julian Felipe Reef. 

"It doesn't weaken anything because we aren't giving up our claim to Julian Felipe pursuant to Marcos appending Julian Felipe to the territory of the Philippines," he said. 

Top diplomat Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a now-deleted tweet seemed to take issue with Roque's statement.

"Huh? Oh, God. @DFAPHL Igor! Memo on my desk tomorrow," he said, in response to a tweet calling Roque's statement a "[b]etrayal upon betrayal." 

If Julian Felipe Reef is not within the Philippines' EEZ, Locsin asked: "Where the ef is it?" 

DFA has ‘last word’ on West Philippine Sea, Locsin says

In a later series of tweets reacting to Roque’s statement, Locsin said the DFA “and no one else” has the last word on the Philippines’ EEZ.

“Ask no one outside DFA,” he said. “If I want ignorance I’ll ask for it.”

The tweet has since been deleted.

In a separate tweet, which is still up as of this writing, Locsin said “somebody dropped the ball of possession; later he picked up the paper of maritime features not generating their own EEZ just in case we drop the ball of possession yet again and lose our EEZ.”

It is unclear who exactly he was referring to.

My God just came in on a very early flight; all this was settled last night: somebody dropped the ball of possession; later he picked up the paper of maritime features not generating their own EEZ just in case we drop the ball of possession yet again and lose our EEZ. Now this? https://t.co/8LfNhsR8ng

— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) May 11, 2021

Locsin has previously chided Roque for contradicting him on foreign policy, telling him to "lay off" and slamming him as “not competent” in the field.

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from James Relativo 

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