MANILA –– The Philippines has lodged 189 diplomatic protests against China so far this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday, as Beijing continued to press its stance in contested waters.
The DFA made the statement after Manila asked Beijing to explain its seizure of a rocket part that landed in the waters of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea last weekend.
"As of 22 November, the DFA has issued 189 protests; 61 of which were made during the current administration. The figures are for 2022," DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a text message.
The South China Sea is a longstanding source of tensions between the 2 nations.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Hundreds of Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels prowl the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishing and other boats, and interfering in oil and gas exploration as well as scientific research.
In Sunday's incident, a Chinese coastguard vessel "blocked" a Filipino rubber boat towing an "unidentified floating object", Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said Monday.
The Chinese coastguard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat team which "forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the (Filipino) rubber boat", he said.
The object was then taken to the Chinese coastguard vessel as the Filipino troops returned to their station, Carlos said.
Beijing -- which has built militarized artificial islands in the archipelago -- insisted the handover took place after "friendly consultation".
Tensions between Manila and Beijing flared last year after hundreds of Chinese vessels were detected at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the Spratlys.
Last November, Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon at Philippine boats delivering supplies to marines at Second Thomas Shoal in the same archipelago.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June, earlier insisted he would not let China trample on the Philippines' maritime rights.
Marcos said his planned visit to China in January could be an opportunity to find a way to avoid further incidents.
— With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse