Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plans to speak with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian about the over 200 Chinese vessels spotted near Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said on Tuesday, March 23.
"Kakausapin niya ang Chinese Ambassador tungkol sa isyung ito (He will speak with the Chinese Ambassador about this issue)," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a news briefing.
Roque said he heard Duterte speak of such plans during his meeting on Monday night with pandemic task force officials. The spokesperson attended virtually.
The President also expressed optimism that the talk would be productive.
"Ang sabi niya, wala namang hindi napag-uusapan sa panig ng mga magkakaibigan (He said, there's no topic that can't be discussed between friends)," said Roque.
But earlier on Monday, the Chinese Embassy said there was no need for the Philippines to be alarmed about the vessels since they supposedly were just fishing vessels taking shelter from "rough sea conditions."
It was the Philippines' own National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea that believes the 220 ships are actually Chinese maritime militia and that swarming Julian Felipe Reef is a strategy to assert dominance in those waters which belong to the Philippines.
Julian Felipe Reef is about 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone where Filipinos enjoy sovereign rights over resources.
The Department of Foreign Affairs filed a diplomatic protest over the vessels while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana decried it as “a clear provocative action of militarizing the area.”
The Chinese Embassy shot back, calling the Philippine assertions an “unnecessary irritation.”
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.