MANILA (1st UPDATE) - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) slammed the latest incursion of Chinese vessels in the Recto Bank or Reed Bank, saying it is part of an emerging pattern of “illegitimate sovereignty patrols” in areas under the jurisdiction of the Philippines.
In a press conference, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said: “We are protesting the conduct of sovereignty patrols by Chinese vessels in Recto Bank or Reed Bank. The frequent passage of Chinese vessels in Recto Bank is not an innocent exercise of the freedom of navigation, but is actually done as part of a pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).”
He said this emerging pattern is part of China’s move to change the status quo in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
He said there is a difference between “merely passing by” and patrolling. In China's case, even if they are moving, they're still "constantly there.”
He said a note verbale will be given to the Chinese embassy anytime soon.
This comes on the heels of the revelation of President Benigno Aquino III that there are Chinese hydrographic research vessels sighted by the military at the resource-rich Recto Bank.
"Anong ginagawa nila diyan? Anong studies nila? Sana hindi nagbabadya ito ng mas malaking o dagdag o panibagong tensyon na naman sa ating dalawa," Aquino told TV5 in an exclusive interview.
Jose noted that Recto Bank is “not an island, rock, or low-tide elevation; but rather it’s completely a submerged bank that is part of the continental margin of Palawan.”
He said Recto Bank is 85 nautical miles from the nearest coast of Palawan. On the other hand, it is 595 nautical miles from the coast of Hainan.
This means that “it forms part of the 200 nautical miles of Philippine archipelago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
He said only the Philippines is lawfully entitled to assert sovereignty over the area.
Defence Department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said Monday the "hydrological research vessels" are capable of mapping the ocean floor, adding they were first sighted in June but could remain at sea for over a month.
China lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbours. This conflicts with the territorial claims of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In recent years, tensions between the Philippines and China have risen as China has aggressively pressed its claim, citing "historical facts" and occupying and fortifying outcrops and islets.
Aquino joked that China could eventually claim all of the Philippines, citing the presence of Chinese migrants in Manila as early as the 16th century when the archipelago was a Spanish colony.
Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said Monday the Philippines would continue to rely mainly on a "strategy of finding a peaceful and diplomatic solution" to the South China Sea dispute. -- with Agence France-Presse