The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday said it has filed a diplomatic protest over return of over 100 Chinese vessels in waters in and around Julian Felipe Reef on April 4, 2022, barely a year after a similar incident.
In a statement, the DFA said the "lingering, unauthorized presence" of Chinese vessels in the area is illegal and is a "source of instability in the region."
"The persistent swarming of Chinese vessels is contrary to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Award. It is also a violation of China’s commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in particular, the exercise of self-restraint pursuant to Paragraph 5 thereof," it said.
The swarming incident was reported days after an online summit between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where they talked about issues relating to the South China Sea.
"The Philippines calls on China to comply with its obligations under international law, cease and desist from displaying illegal and irresponsible behavior, avoid further escalating tensions at sea and immediately withdraw all of its vessels from Philippine maritime zones," the DFA said.
In April last year, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana lambasted China as several of Beijing's maritime militia remained in Philippine waters despite calls for them to withdraw.
The Chinese embassy in Manila responded by claiming that the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), which Beijing calls Niu'e Jiao, is part of its string of islands in the disputed South China Sea.
China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, which the West Philippine Sea is a part of, have been invalidated by an international arbitral tribunal in 2016.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
China's maritime aggressiveness has put Duterte in an awkward spot throughout his presidency because of his praise and controversial embrace of Beijing, with which the Philippines has a long history of mistrust.
Earlier this week, the DFA also filed a diplomatic protest over China's fishing ban in areas of the West Philippine Sea.