Philippines files diplomatic protest over Chinese ship's 'close distance maneuvering'

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2022 05:09 PM

Philippine Coast Guard Fb
A vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard sails close to the Philippines' BRP Malabrigo at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on March 2, 2022. Courtesy: Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page/screengrab

More state forces deployed in Scarborough Shoal - Esperon

MANILA— Top government officials on Tuesday asserted the Philippines' full sovereignty in Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, with the country's top security adviser saying Manila has filed a diplomatic protest against China over a recent incident. 

On March 2, the Philippine Coast Guard had a close encounter with a Chinese vessel in the area. The shoal, also known as Panatag, is located 124 nautical miles off Zambales and is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. 

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the Philippines is "for peace" and is dealing with continued aggression in the disputed waters "the best way" the government can. 

"You can expect, tapos na, nag-file na kami ng diplomatic protest dun, meron na," Esperon said.

(It is done, we already filed a diplomatic protest there. There is already one.)

"I must say that we are for peace in the area and therefore the first approach would most likely the diplomatic, and we have been filing diplomatic protests," he added. 

His statement came following Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin claim that Beijing "has sovereignty over Huangyan Dao and its adjacent waters, as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters." 

Wang said foreign ships should assert Beijing's sovereignty and abide by China's laws.

Beijing maintains a constant presence of coastguard and fishing boats in the South China Sea, within which is the West Philippine Sea, to assert its claim of sovereignty. 

This is despite the Arbitral Tribunal in 2016 concluding that there was no legal basis for China to claim economic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its so-called "nine-dash line.”

China has refused to recognize the award, at some point calling it “illegal, null and void.”

Malacañang, meanwhile, dismissed the Chinese official's claims, noting that the country "continue[s] to exercise full sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc and its territorial sea."

The country also has "sovereign rights and jurisdiction" over the shoal's surrounding exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf," contrary to what Wang claimed, acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar said in a statement. 

ASSERTING RIGHTS

Esperon said while the close distance maneuvering "can always happen," it is important that the Philippines stands by its sovereignty and assert it through international laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

"There may be counter claims but we, as a nation, will stand by our established sovereign rights and sovereignty over the area," said Esperon, who is also chair of the National Task Force West Philippine Sea. 

"There are other things that we have to do, ito ay gawain na may mga ibang (this is what other countries also do) involved na countries and so we try to deal with them in the best way we can availing of the, as I said, the national instruments of power," he added. 

Asked why the information was only made public weeks after the incident, Esperon said his agency took time to verify the reports.

Aside from a diplomatic protest, the country will also boost its presence in the Scarborough Shoal through the Bureau of Fisheries and Coast Guard.

"Isa sa mga ginagawa natin yun, di naman mabilisan. Ngayon kung sumagot 'yung China na to the contrary then there is a corresponding action from the DFA, kung sinabi nilang that's part of their sovereignty, sinasabi naman natin that's part of our territory," he added.

(That is among the things we are doing, that is not immediate. Now, if China responds to the contrary then there is an action from the DFA. If they say that is part of their sovereignty, that is part of our territory.)

The Philippines will not go to war to stake its claims in the disputed waters, he said.

"We will assert that through diplomatic channels and through the international community. Can we afford to go to war? Not now, or not in this instance. There will be a time for that, but in general we want peaceful settlements of the conflicts in the area," Esperon said. 

The Philippines has filed more than 200 diplomatic protests against China since President Rodrigo Duterte came in power in 2016, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in November. 

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