Spratlys part of China territory? Malacañang reminds Beijing of Hague ruling

Pia Ranada
'China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas,' says Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

STANDING UP FOR PAG-ASA. Here is an image of Pag-asa Island, the seat of power in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys). Image from CSIS/AMTI

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang reminded China of the Philippines’ 2016 international court victory against Beijing’s claim to the West Philippine Sea in response to its government’s claim that the Spratlys or Kalayaan Group of Islands is part of China’s territory.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in the latest of a series of strongly-worded statements, mentioned the historic Hague ruling in his response to the claim of China’s foreign ministry that the Kalayaan Group of Islands, also known as the Spratlys, are within Chinese territory.

“The arbitral ruling however has already been rendered and we remain steadfast in maintaining our claims with respect to our territory and exclusive economic zones pursuant, not only to the said arbitral judgment based on accepted principles of public international law, but consistent with the directives of our Constitution and the aspirations of the Filipino people,” Panelo said on Friday, April 12.

He prefaced this declaration, however, with the Philippines’ concurrence that the maritime dispute will “be best threshed out through peaceful negotiation and consultation between the two countries.”

On Thursday, April 11, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said the Spratlys, which the Chinese call Nansha Islands “are China’s territory” and that Beijing’s claim “is backed by sufficient historical and jurisprudential evidence.”

He was responding to assertions by Filipino officials, led by President Rodrigo Duterte himself, that Pag-asa Island, part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands, belongs to Filipinos.

Don’t endanger Filipino fishermen

The Palace told China not to endanger the lives of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

“Irritants,” Panelo said, could also derail progress being made in bilateral talks between the two countries in the sea row.

“China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas,” the Duterte spokesperson said.

Duterte himself has made clear that his red line is if China kills or arrests Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea, part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine President, who flaunts his “friendship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, had previously told China to “lay off” Pag-asa Island and promised to never allow the Chinese to occupy the island.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has also said the presence of Chinese militia vessels near the island is “illegal.” The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest which Panelo expects Beijing to respond to “soon.”

Panelo began making strong statements against China’s claims after the DFA filed its protest. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.