Philippines files fresh protest vs China as ships still linger in West PH Sea

The Philippines has filed another diplomatic protest against China after the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) found at least 240 Chinese ships still lingering in the West Philippine Sea despite repeated demands to withdraw from the area. 

“Fire a diplomatic protest now,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said on Wednesday morning, April 14. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief said he was likewise changing his policy of only protesting such incidents after receiving requests from the NTF-WPS, and was lodging a protest on Wednesday after media reported on the task force’s findings. 

The DFA said two separate diplomatic protest were filed on Tuesday: one for the over 200 Chinese ships scattered across different maritime features in the West Philippine Sea, and the other being the daily protest it said it would file as long as ships remained in Julian Felipe Reef.

What the NTF-WPS saw

The NTF-WPS earlier said that an estimated 240 Chinese vessels were seen dispersed throughout the West Philippine Sea during its latest sovereignty patrols last April 11. 

A total of 136 Chinese vessels were spotted at Burgos Reef (Gaven Reef), while more vessels were seen in the following areas: 

  • 9 vessels at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef)
  • 65 at Chigua Reef (McKennan Reef)
  • 6 at Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef)
  • 3 at Zamora Reef (Subi Reef)
  • 4 at Pag-asa Islands (Thitu Islands) 
  • 1 at Likas Island (West York Island)
  • 5 at Kota Island (Loaita Island)
  • 11 at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) 

The NTF-WPS said the ships found around the Union Banks and Pag-asa Islands were about 60 meters in length and that it was estimated each ship could catch at least 1 ton of fish. Put together, the task force said “a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish (are) illegally taken from Philippine waters every single day that the massed Chinese fishing vessels remain in the West Philippine Sea.” 

“These acts fall under illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF)," the task force said. 

On Twitter, Locsin asserted that resources in Philippine waters belonged to Filipinos.

"Everything in the water that belongs by law to us: fish, clams, and in such big quantities as to wipe out sustainability," he said.

Former foreign secretary Albert Del Rosario earlier said that so long as Chinese vessels remained in the West Philippine Sea, it was violating Philippine laws, including the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 or Republic Act 8550. 

The law states “it shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation, or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.”

“The lingering Chinese presence in Julian Felipe Reef is an open and continuing violation of our laws. It is but right that our leaders do whatever is necessary to address this open and continuing insult to Filipinos,” Del Rosario said. 

The NTF-WPS had also reported that the Philippine Coast Guard found Chinese fishermen illegally harvesting giant clams in the vicinity of Pag-asa Islands last March 28. The Philippines had earlier protested such activity in April 2019. 

“This act is a blatant violation of Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)," the NTF-WPS said.

During its patrols, the task force likewise spotted several ships of the China’s People Liberation Army Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard, as well as 10 Chinese maritime militia vessels in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal). 

"The continuous swarming of Chinese vessels poses a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ," the task force said, referring to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

The task force once again reiterated the Philippine government’s demand for China to withdraw all its vessels from the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, adding China “should take the Philippine representations seriously and respect Philippine sovereignty, rights, and interests in consonance with the further strengthening of Philippine-China bilateral relations.”

The latest protest from the Philippines comes just days after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian was summoned to the DFA on April 12 over the illegal lingering presence of Beijing’s vessels in Julian Felipe Reef. 

Since late March, Philippine diplomatic and defense officials have demanded China to “immediately withdraw” its ships from area, after over 200 of its vessels were first spotted massed in Julian Felipe Reef and later scattered to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group.

The Philippines, since April 5, has lodged daily diplomatic protests against China over the lingering presence of its ships in the West Philippine Sea. It vowed one would be filed “every day” so long as China’s vessels remained in Philippine waters. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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