Philippines summons China envoy as ships linger illegally in West PH Sea reef


Posted at Apr 13 2021 01:42 PM | Updated as of Apr 13 2021 04:30 PM

Philippines summons China envoy as ships linger illegally in West PH Sea 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 (UPDATE) — The Philippines on Tuesday said it summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian on Monday over the "illegal lingering presence" of China's maritime militia fleet in Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it demanded the withdrawal of Chinese ships in the waters, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the South China Sea. 

China lays expansive claims over the waters despite a July 2016 UN tribunal invalidating it.

"The DFA expressed displeasure over the illegal lingering presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef," the statement said, adding that this has been a "source of regional tension." 

"The DFA reiterated the firm demand of the Philippines that China ensure the immediate departure of all its vessels from the area of Julian Felipe Reef and other maritime zones of the Philippines," it said on the meeting between acting Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso and Huang on Monday.

The DFA also reiterated the arbitral ruling, citing how it has invalidated China's historical 9-dash line claim to the resource-rich waters. The Philippines had initiated such arbitration proceedings in a bid to stop Chinese incursions into its EEZ.

"The 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea arbitration ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect," it added, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


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China was also reminded of "proper decorum and manners in the conduct of their duties as guests of the Philippines" following its missive against Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana calling him "unprofessional." 

"Both sides affirmed the use of peaceful settlement of disputes in
addressing their differences on the SCS/WPS issue," the statement added. 

Philippines summons China envoy as ships linger illegally in West PH Sea reef 2
This handout satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2021 and received on March 25 from Maxar Technologies shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) around 320 kilometers west of Bataraza in Palawan in the West Philippine Sea. Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies, AFP/ Handout


Quoting information from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said there were only 9 Chinese ships left in Julian Felipe Reef, reiterating that it is “time to go.”

Chinese diplomats earlier said the boats anchored near the reef - which numbered more than 200 when it was first sighted on March 7 - were sheltering from rough seas and that no militia were aboard.

The DFA, however, vowed to file a diplomatic protest every day until the last Chinese ship is gone from the reef.

“As I said, while it may well be traditional fishing grounds, tradition yields to law and the law on the matter is UNCLOS and The Arbitral Award and the common rules of statutory construction,” Locsin said.

Locsin said the issue is a “goddamned distraction from the beneficial potential of the good relations” that the two countries have built under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, noting that such incursions "achieve nothing in law." 

"Fishing is not an act of possession nor a claim of ownership; fishing is just fishing. [A]nd even if you take your damned time fishing in the same spot it is still only what you claim it is—fishing," the official explained. 

He added that China and the Philippines' partnership "has so much potential" that could also benefit the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but it has supposedly gone to waste. 

"What a waste of great opportunities for good. Let’s give it a rest,” he said in a tweet. 


Former Philippine top diplomat Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, expressed support for the DFA's move. 

In a statement, Del Rosario said the DFA acted consistently with the country’s constitutional duty to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in deciding to summon the Chinese envoy.

“In doing so, the DFA has acted consistent with our collective constitutional duty to protect our ‘national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.’ This is truly the ‘independent foreign policy’ contemplated by our Constitution, which is to protect our national heritage in the West Philippine Sea,” said Del Rosario, the DFA chief who led the Philippines' arbitration proceedings against China. 

Del Rosario said the Chinese vessels violate the country’s fisheries law.

“As long as Chinese vessels remain in Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of our Exclusive Economic Zone, such Chinese vessels violate our laws, especially the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 which provides, in part, that ‘it shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters,’” he said.

“Our law also provides that the ‘entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters shall constitute a prima facie presumption that the vessel is engaged in fishing in Philippine waters.’”

“The lingering Chinese presence in Julian Felipe Reef is an open and continuing violation of our laws. It is but right that our leaders do whatever is necessary to address this open and continuing insult to Filipinos,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian last week said that Beijing does not intend to establish permanent presence in the area, but reiterated his country’s claim that Julian Felipe Reef, which they call Niu'e Jiao, is part of China’s Nansha Islands

Analysts and several countries earlier warned China of its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, as it could threaten regional stability. 

The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have voiced their concerns on the matter. 


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- With reports from Willard Cheng and Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News