China now aggressing Philippine inner waters

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Picture yourself frolicking on Boracay’s white sands in the center of the archipelago. Then a gray China navy warship suddenly draws near, cannons menacing and drones videoing you.

That is the seriousness of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s trespass of Philippine inner waters between Palawan and Panay.

Electronic surveillance warship No. 792 barged in uninvited last Jan. 29-Feb. 1. There that week, Jan. 27-Feb. 2, the AFP and US Marines were holding amphibious drills. Boracay is on the farther side of Panay.

The intruder stopped for two days. Challenged by Philippine Navy patrol BRP Antonio Luna, it refused to leave the area and instead lurked at Palawan’s Cuyo Isles. Only after more warnings did it sail via Apo Reefs marine sanctuary and Mindoro Strait out to the West Philippine Sea.

An archipelagic state’s inner waters are part of its territory, no different from its islands. No foreign vessel may pass through those waters without permission. The vessel may be allowed innocent passage under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. But it must stick to the state’s designated straight path and not stop unless for emergency. It should not conduct reconnaissance, launch military craft, gather information or other hostile acts. And it must immediately depart when so ordered.

PLAN-792 broke all those rules. The missile-tracking spy ship trespassed Philippine inner waters from the WPS via Balabac Strait south of Palawan. If on innocent passage, as the Chinese Embassy now blabbers, it should have sailed the designated sea lane straight to Surigao Strait in northeast Mindanao and exited to the Pacific. Instead it turned northward near the off-limits Tubbataha Reefs marine sanctuary. It loitered in the vicinity for two days. Then it strayed northeast to Cuyo before exiting back to the WPS via Mindoro Strait north of Palawan.

If PLAN-792 needed to sail from south to north of Palawan, it could have done so along the WPS outer waters westside of Palawan. Weather was fine that week; it had no mechanical or medical emergency. The shortest distance beween two points is a straight line – to save fuel and sail time. Instead it traversed three sides of the rectangle bordering Palawan – south, east and north. That is not innocent passage. That is “illegal incursion” as the Dept. of Foreign Affairs protested last Monday. (The Dept. of National Defense had kept mum all the while.)

The China navy, coast guard and fisheries militia routinely intrude outer Philippine waters as well. They occupy our reefs and poach fish, in violation of the 1982 UNCLOS and the 2016 ruling of The Hague arbitral court.

The Philippine Baselines Law specifies the outer waters under UNCLOS. Lines connect the outermost land points around Batanes, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Tawi-Tawi. From those baselines, the Philippines is entitled to an exclusive economic zone up to 200 miles as maritime jurisdiction. But the first 12 miles are territorial waters.

The Philippines is also entitled to another 150 miles extended continental shelf. On the west side the EEZ and ECS comprise the West Philippine Sea. Under that entitlement, the UN declared the 13 million-hectare Benham Rise on the east or Pacific side as Philippine ECS. Thus, the East Philippine Sea consists of the EEZ plus Benham, now officially called Philippine Rise.

China covets the WPS (and the EEZs of Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei) as part of its “territorial” South China Sea by concocted “historical rights”. But the 2016 Hague ruling rubbished those. China refuses to accept.

China also regularly intrudes Philippine Rise, the National Security Agency reported to the Senate on Tuesday. Defying the UN declaration, China claims ownership of undersea features by virtue of supposedly being the first to name them.

While pretending to recognize Philippine land territory, China illogically claims to own the waters on the west and east sides. And it incurses the inner waters between.

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