MANILA — Manila "abhors" the Chinese coast guard's use of water cannon against Filipino resupply boats, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday, adding that a ruling that invalidated Beijing's claims to the West Philippine Sea points "to a just and fair solution to our disputes."
The Philippines last week said Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed toward Filipino-occupied Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).
"We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership," Duterte said during the ASEAN-China Special Summit.
He argued the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea, "is a strategic challenge that cannot be solved by force."
Duterte said the 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed court which rejected China's "historical" claims to Philippine waters provides "legal clarity… pointing us to a just and fair solution to our disputes."
"We must fully utilize these legal tools to ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and prosperity," he said via video conference.
"Let us then walk our talk and move forward, acta non verba, which means, deeds not words. Let us exercise utmost restraint and avoid escalation of tension. And most importantly, let us earnestly work towards the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law,” added the President.
Duterte previously set aside the landmark ruling as he pursued friendlier relations with China upon assumption to power in 2016 to get investments and economic aid. In May this year, he described the arbitral award a mere piece of paper that should be thrown to the waste basket.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday said China had "no right to impede, prevent or harass our ships within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), whether we are fishing or bringing supplies to our detachment in the Sierra Madre (navy ship) in Ayungin Shoal."
The resupply mission returned Monday on his instructions, with the Chinese ambassador to Manila assuring it will not be impeded, said Lorenzana.
The chief of the Philippine military's Western Command, Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez, said the number of Chinese coast guard vessels in the area had gone down to two as of Saturday night, from three last Tuesday.
He said the Chinese maritime militia vessels had also left the shoal. China has denied operating a militia.
There were 19 vessels near Ayungin Shoal recently and 45 near Pag-asa Island, another Philippines-occupied area, according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.
— With a report from Reuters