Philippines mulls new protest against China

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario says China's heightened presence in the West Philippine Sea, if confirmed, is 'concerning'

NEW PROTEST. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario says the Philippines is considering to protest China's increased presence in the West Philippine Sea. Screen grab by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is considering to file another protest against China after President Benigno Aquino III said on Thursday, June 5, that China seems to be boosting its presence in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters: “If in fact it’s clear to us that the status quo there is being changed, then we will take a look at a formal protest. Right now we aren’t sure and we are taking a good look, as I said.”

Del Rosario said China’s heightened presence, if confirmed, is “concerning” if it leads to what China did on Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef) in the contested Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines has protested China’s reported reclamation activities on Mabini.

‘Changing status quo’

Mabini-like activities would violate the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), Del Rosario said on the sidelines of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) Manila Conference.

This is “because you are effectively changing the status quo and you are raising tension,” he said.

Signed in 2012 by the Philippines and China, along with other Southeast Asian countries, the DOC states: “The parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

Del Rosario, however, is not too sure about the details of the President’s claims.

“I’ve not seen the intelligence report on it, but I understand there is an intelligence report,” he said.

The foreign secretary added, “If we are able to come up with a picture that what they intend to do there is what they are doing in Mabini, you can be sure that we will protest.”

Aquino saw photos

Del Rosario’s statements came after Aquino, also on the sidelines of ASEM, said he has received reports on China’s increased presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Aquino said he saw photos of ships on Gavin Reef and Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys.

“In the reports we received, we are again bothered that there seems to be developments in other areas within the disputed seas. Amongst them is the movement of ships. We’re not saying that they are exactly the same ships that were used in Mabini, but there seems to be similar ships at the very least,” Aquino told reporters.

The Philippines has filed a historic case against China over the West Philippine Sea, which China has rejected.

On Tuesday, June 3, the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which handles the Philippines’ case, said it has ordered China to answered the pleading filed by the Philippines by December 15.

The tribunal said China reiterated its position that “it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.