PH envoy urges vigilance amid sighting of Chinese ships in Felipe reef

Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2021 03:51 PM

PH envoy urges vigilance amid sighting of Chinese ships in Felipe reef 1
Chinese vessels are seen on March 22, 2021 in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the "incursion" violates the Philippines' maritime rights as the vessels are encroaching into Manila's sovereign territory. Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA - The country’s ambassador to China on Saturday urged the Philippines to be "vigilant" as Chinese ships continue to stay in the Julian Felipe Reef, describing the movement as a "matter of concern." 

In a public press briefing, Philippines’ Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said they are closely monitoring the movement of some 200 ships supposedly present in the area due to bad weather. 

"Ang importante na ma-monitor at masundan ang gagawing hakbang ng Tsina dahil according to them, they are seeking shelter from bad weather. Our goal is to monitor and see what the movement will be on the ground because they assure na hindi ito isang permanenteng sitwasyon … They are denying na militia [ ay involved],” Sta. Romana said. 

(What's important is that we monitor and follow China's next steps because according to them, they are seeking shelter from bad weather. Our goal is to monitor and see what the movement will be on the ground because they have assured that this is not a permanent situation and they are denying that there is militia.) 

"Alam mo ang leksyon nito we have to be vigilant. (The lesson here is we have to be vigilant.) vigilance is the price of sovereignty. Tingnan natin kung ipapatupad nito. (We should see if this is implemented.) We have to heighten our vigilance," Sta. Romana added. 

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While Sta. Romana said the presence of the ships in the area was a “cause of concern,” he maintained that the public “does not have to panic," citing that China has promised to withdraw the ships once the weather improves.

"Kung tatandaan natin nanung 2019 nangyari din ito. pero noon nangyari sa Pag-Asa island, ‘yung swarming ng Chinese militia nagkaroon tayo ng protesta at diplomatic exchange. Tapos nagkapaliwanagan and through diplomacy nagkalinawan at unti unti nawala or nabawasan yung Chinese ships at tumuloy sila sa fishing or whatever they have to do. We should be concerned with but we don't have to panic,” Sta. Romana said. 

(If you could recall, this also happened in 2019. But 
we don’t have to panic. If we can recall this also happened with Pag-Asa island when Chinese militia swarmed the area. We had a protest and diplomatic exchange. Gradually, the ships became fewer. We should be concerned with but we don't have to panic.) 

"We just have to exercise a high degree of vigilance, a high degree of monitoring and see what happens on the ground. I expect that this matter can be resolved with an abundance of diplomacy and given the friendly relations with Philippines and China and their assurance that this is not a permanent situation,” Sta. Romana added. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. already filed a diplomatic protest to have China recall the 220 boats moored in the Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef. 

The reef is situated within the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, which China claims in near entirety, conducting militarization and island-building activities. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio earlier described the incursion as a prelude to occupation. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s also made a separate call to urge the recall of the ships. The United States earlier in the week expressed concern over the presence of Chinese militia vessels in Philippine waters.