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Philippines files diplomatic protest vs China over 220 vessels in West PH Sea

The Philippines on Sunday, March 21, filed a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of 220 Chinese vessels near the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.

In a tweet on Sunday evening, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said he filed the protest following a recommendation from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

"Can't wait for first light," he said.

Locsin earlier tweeted that he would file a protest "only if the generals tell me."

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said it received verified reports from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) about alleged fishing vessels moored in line formation near the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.

The vessels, however, showed no signs of "actual fishing activities," and they were "believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday slammed their presence, saying it is "a clear provocative action of militarizing the area."

"These are territories well within Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf where Filipinos have the sole right to resources under international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling," he said in a statement.

"We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory."

Lorenzana said they are now coordinating with the NTF-WPS, PCG, and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for "appropriate action in the context of protecting the welfare of our Filipino fishermen, our marine resources, and maintaining peace and stability" in the area.

"We are committed to uphold our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it will continue to monitor the situation, but will leave any decision to the DFA and the Department of National Defense.

"We shall continue to pursue a peaceful, principled, and rules-based approach in resolving issues in the West Philippine Sea," AFP chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.

"Our utmost priority remains to be the protection of our citizens in the area, particularly our fishermen, through increased maritime patrols," he added.

The presence of Chinese vessels is the latest aggression from Beijing in the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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