'Blatant disregard' of promises: DFA files new protests vs Chinese ships in West PH Sea

Just as it had vowed to do, the Philippines filed more diplomatic protests against the continued "illegal" presence of Chinese vessels in its waters, calling this a “blatant disregard” of China's commitments to regional peace and stability.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Friday, April 23, that it filed two more diplomatic protests on Wednesday, April 21.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs has lodged on 21 April two new diplomatic notes in protest of the continued deployment, lingering presence, and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones. The presence of these vessels blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” 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 also said in its statement.

The fresh round of protests is the latest action taken by the Philippine government against the continued presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef since hundreds of them were first spotted swarming the area in early March. It earlier filed in March and earlier in April.

165 Chinese ships still in West Philippine Sea

The DFA said on Friday that as of April 20, Philippine maritime law enforcement agencies counted a total of 165 Chinese vessels in Philippine waters.

These include 160 Chinese fishing vessels and Chinese maritime militia vessels in Philippine waters, specifically “within the territorial sea of high tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group, in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and in and around the territorial waters of Bajo de Masinloc” (Scarborough Shoal).”

Philippine authorities also spotted five Chinese Coast Guard vessels within the vicinities of Pag-asa Islands, Bajo de Masinloc, and Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef).

The current number is lower compared to the 240 Chinese ships spotted by the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on April 11. The Philippines has been demanding the complete withdrawal of all Chinese vessels in its waters, and has been backed up by its oldest and most powerful treaty ally, the United States.

“Through these 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 exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Julian Felipe Reef and Ayungin Shoal,” the DFA said.

"The DFA has been demanding that China adhere to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the final and binding Arbitral Award of the 12 July 2016 South China Sea Arbitration," it added.

The DFA said it 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 pursuant to Paragraph 5 thereof, in order to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the ongoing negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea."

While Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana have been protesting China's incursions, President Rodrigo Duterte stuck to his old claim that given China's military might, asserting Philippine sovereignty would only lead to a war with the regional giant. Many experts and members of the academe have repeatedly debunked Duterte's claim.

Experts, including retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, have warned that China's incursions on Julian Felipe Reef may be a "prelude" to occupying the Philippine Reef, just as it had done to Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in 1995.

China's incursions are also seen to be detrimental to Philippine fishermen. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea earlier estimated  “a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea.”– Rappler.com