Lorenza unleashes missive as PH, China foreign ministers meet
MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday lambasted China as several of its maritime militia remained in Philippine waters despite calls for it to withdraw, noting that Beijing's envoy has some explaining to do.
In a statement, Lorenzana said he is "no fool" as China's presence lingered in the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), which lies within the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea.
He also pointed out that aerial surveillance revealed that the weather there "has been good so far" contrary to China's statement that ships there were seeking shelter from bad weather.
"As of our latest maritime and aerial surveillance, there are still forty-four (44) Chinese vessels that are in Julian Felipe Reef... They have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan (get out of there)" Lorenzana said.
"We, again, reiterate our demand for the Chinese to leave our sovereign territories and abide by international law," he added.
Senator Richard Gordon also expressed his frustration, recalling how Chinese vessels supposedly harassed and threatened the country's coast guard and fishermen in the disputed waters.
It is time, Gordon said, for some action to be done which includes seeking help from "stronger allies before it is too late."
"We cannot sit around doing nothing while China little by little attempts to occupy our territory. We must strengthen our economy so that we can build a stronger military and defend ourselves against bigger nations," said the senator.
"We must work towards being able to impose ourselves when necessary to protect our territory."
Canada, Australia, Japan and the United States have voiced concern about China's latest actions in the waters, which it claims in near entirety.
The statement of the two government officials came as Chinese State Counselor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held bilateral talks with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin in Fujian, China on Friday, according to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.
Prior to the meeting, Locsin had said that features in the West Philippine Sea were “ours” — even if they had Chinese structures in them.
“[The area is] within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) so it’s ours," Locsin said in a tweet. "The durability and vintage of the structures don’t matter. Ours."
Huang said in a Facebook post that the meeting between the two top diplomats covered topics such as vaccine cooperation, trading, and regional cooperation, among others. There was no direct mention of the latest incident in the Julian Felipe Reef.
Huang said both sides were committed to implementing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Among the discussions were the Belt and Road Partnership, in which the Philippines participates; the continued bilateral anti-epidemic cooperation between both countries; and cross-border e-commerce.
The Philippines has been securing doses of Sinovac vaccines from the Chinese government for its vaccination drive. Sinovac is among the 4 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines granted emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines.
Huang said constant communication between the Philippines and China has been a “vital part of our bilateral relations.”
“The consistent communication between our two countries continues to become a vital part of our bilateral relations. I believe it results in an even healthier partnership and stronger friendship that allows us to work together on more and more avenues of cooperation,” Xilian said.
A 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed court invalidated China's nine-dash line claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which at least $3.4 trillion of annual trade passes.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
China's maritime assertiveness has put President Rodrigo Duterte in an awkward spot throughout his presidency because of his praise and controversial embrace of Beijing, with which the Philippines has a long history of mistrust.