MANILA — The international studies department of the Far Eastern University (FEU) in Manila on Friday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to "spearhead a more proactive approach" in handling China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
According to the academic group, the policies and actions of Beijing in the resource-rich waters "continues to be a serious concern in Philippine-China relations."
The country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea is believed to hold valuable gas and oil deposits.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea had been adjudged by a UN-backed arbitration court to have no legal basis, but Beijing has continued to shun the ruling, instead ramping up militarization and island-building activities in the waters.
"We urge the Philippine President, the chief architect of our National Foreign Policy, to spearhead a more proactive approach in handling the issue, based on rational decisions in favor of the Philippines and for the Filipino people," the faculty members said in a statement.
They also pointed out that China's lingering presence at Julian Felipe Reef is concerning as this violates international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) where Beijing is a signatory.
As of May 5, 9 Chinese ships remained in the reef, according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.
"It violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines... We urge China to be a responsible and reasonable nation-state by refraining from building artificial islands and militarizing the highly-contested region," they said.
The government should also "provide leadership" under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the matter and create a code of conduct.
Aside from this, Philippine leaders should make a clearer stance on the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea.
"We call on the Philippine government to formulate a clearer... policy and action in protecting our sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea, as well as our sovereign rights in the areas covered by our EEZ."
Duterte earlier said the Philippines holds a "debt of gratitude" for Chinese aid, but its waters "cannot be bargained."
The Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has been conducting maritime drills in the areas since late April, even as Chinese ships have been sighted there since early March.
The deployment of additional vessels and aircraft in the area aims to intensify operations against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and to "increase safety of life at sea operations", a government task force said.
The Philippine government has filed several protests regarding the continued incursions of Chinese ships in the country's EEZ.