MANILA (UPDATE2) - The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday called out the Chinese Embassy in Manila for describing the Philippine Defense Secretary's statement on Chinese incursions at the Julian Felipe Reef as "unprofessional", and blasted its "blatant falsehoods" regarding the latest situation in the West Philippine Sea.
"The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly denounces the Embassy’s attempt to impugn the Secretary of National Defense -- a Cabinet Official of the Republic of the Philippines -- by calling his statement 'unprofessional,'" the DFA said in a statement.
"Chinese Embassy officials are reminded that they are guests of the Philippine Government, and as guests must at all times observe protocol and accord respect to Philippine Government officials," it added.
The embassy's spokesperson said last Saturday that China hopes authorities "avoid any unprofessional remarks" over the mooring of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea, after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on the same day told the vessels to sail away and for the Chinese to "leave our sovereign territories and abide by international law."
Lorenzana said that "as of our latest maritime and aerial surveillance, there are still forty-four (44) Chinese vessels that are in Julian Felipe Reef," down from the initially estimated 200 on March 7.
"The Chinese Ambassador has a lot of explaining to do... I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there," he said.
Chinese officials had said the vessels, which they deny to be maritime militia as described by Philippine authorities, are in Chinese territory, calling the reef as Niu'e Jiao, and are seeking temporary shelter due to rough sea conditions.
The DFA said the embassy's statement "contained blatant falsehoods."
It said claims of adverse weather conditions, as well as supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels, are not true.
The embassy's statement also attempts "to promote the clearly false narrative of China's expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea," the DFA said.
Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) falls within the Philippine exclusive economic zone as it "is located 175 nautical miles west of Batarza town in Palawan, and 638.229 nautical miles from Hainan Island," the DFA said.
The DFA also rejected China's statement that the reef is part of its traditional fishing grounds.
"Tradition yields to law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing," it said.
"The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) - to which both the Republic of the Philippines and China are parties - and the final and binding 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration are clearly the only norm applicable to this situation," it added.
The DFA underscored that the UN-backed arbitration court's ruling "settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea".
"The Tribunal ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits or maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect," it said.
China did not participate in the arbitration proceedings in The Hague, and continues to disregard the landmark ruling.
The DFA reiterated Lorenzana's call for Chinese vessels to leave the reef, saying the Philippines would lodge a diplomatic protest "for every day of delay."
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said Sunday he is "considering a demarche" or a political step, even as he already filed a diplomatic protest last March 21, after China said that Julian Felipe Reef is part of its territory.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have also criticized China's continuing incursions in the West Philippine Sea.