MANILA (UPDATE)— The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against China over its "incessant" presence around the Pag-Asa Islands in the West Philippine Sea, the foreign office said Saturday, the latest in a string of filings to counter Chinese encroachment in Philippine waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement it was demanding China to withdraw vessels from the Pag-Asa Islands, which is within the country's exclusive economic zone in the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines maintains a military detachment and has civilian a community in Kalayaan town on Pag-Asa, a part of Palawan.
"The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest yesterday against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels in the vicinity of the Pag-Asa Islands, demanding that China withdraw these vessels," the foreign office said.
Calling China's activities and presence in the area "illegal," the DFA said the islands were "an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction."
Ivy Banzon-Abalos, executive director of the DFA’s office of strategic communication and research, said the Philippines has filed 99 protest notes, as of Friday.
This includes the daily protests the DFA “vowed to file every day as long as Chinese vessels remain in Julian Felipe Reef,” Abalos said.
The latest protest follows Manila's earlier diplomatic filings against Beijing over the lingering presence of over 200 ships around the Julian Felipe Reef, also in the West Philippine Sea.
Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs or Union Banks, a group of features also under the jurisdiction of the Kalayaan town.
The Philippines has stepped up maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea amid continuing Chinese encroachment.
Just last week, the Philippines and China held bilateral talks on the maritime dispute, which a DFA official had described as "friendly and candid."
During the meeting, the Philippines asserted its "long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law" such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the "final and binding" 2016 ruling by a UN-back court that invalidated China's 9-dash line claim.
China ignores the ruling and instead has continued to ramp up island-building and militarization activities in the waters.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pursued friendly ties with China, recently called the ruling a "piece of paper" that belongs to the waste bin.
More details to follow.