MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Wednesday afternoon confirmed his agency filed two fresh diplomatic protests against China over the presence of some 240 Chinese ships across the West Philippine Sea and their remaining vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.
The West Philippine Sea is 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.
“Fired it off. Beautifully written but you will never see it because I’m like that. Annoying. Only Senate and House foreign relations,” Locsin said in a tweet.
"I fired off today’s diplomatic protest on ABS-CBN tweet of NTF WPS report. I never did that before,” he added.
The country's top diplomat earlier in the day issued the directive based on an ABS-CBN News report on the Chinese ships, saying he has not heard “anything” from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. The report cited information from the NTF-WPS.
“I haven’t heard anything from the f**** NTF-WPS but I’ll take ABS-CBN News’ word for it. Changing my policy of acting only on NTF requests. @DFAPHL FIRE A DIPLOMATIC PROTEST NOW,” Locsin tweeted.
The DFA also confirmed it is still filing daily diplomatic protests over China’s continued presence at the Julian Felipe Reef, which is inside the West Philippine Sea.
The agency earlier vowed to take the action every day until the last Chinese ship is gone from the reef.
“Yes, our daily diplomatic protest still on; we are currently verifying the reports and checking facts on the ground (waters!) to ensure our protest is worded accordingly,” Ivy Banzon-Abalos, executive director of the agency's Office of Strategic Communication and Research, told reporters in a message.
The agency on Monday summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian on Monday over the "illegal lingering presence" of China's maritime militia fleet at the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Chinese Embassy earlier said the boats anchored near the reef were sheltering from rough seas and that no militia were aboard, but which the Philippines refuted.
In a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said his country is ready to properly resolve the disputes even as he reiterated their "consistent and clear position to safeguard their "territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests."
Zhao noted President Rodrigo Duterte's recent statement "that the Philippines will continue to resolve the issue peacefully through diplomatic channel", as well as the "consensus" reached by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Locsin "on the proper settlement of the relevant dispute" during the latter's recent China trip.
"We hope certain Philippine officials can stop hying up the issue and avoid producing a negative impact on bilateral relations and peace and stability in the South China Sea," said Zhao.
Duterte forged friendlier relations with China upon assuming power in 2016, shelving the maritime disputes issue in favor of economic aid and investments.
He had, however, repeatedly raised the 2016 arbitration award on the South China Sea with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. But the latter stood by China's position not to recognize the landmark ruling.
PALACE: PH MARITIME SECURITY BOOSTED
In a statement, Malacañang said Wednesday that "Duterte underscored the importance of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling before the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly."
The NTF-WPS "has always been consistent in invoking Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights" in the West Philippine Sea, added Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr.
"The presence of Philippine maritime security and law enforcement forces have been stepped up in the municipality of Kalayaan to protect Filipino fishermen and the marine resources," he added.
— With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News