MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – China is a trespasser at the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea as the Philippines' claim over the area is affirmed by the UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitral award, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.
“Ayungin lies inside our (exclusive economic zone) which we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of,” Lorenzana told reporters.
“Furthermore, the arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing.”
“Meron tayong dalawang documento na nagpapatunay na meron tayong sovereign rights sa ating EEZ, habang sila ay wala at yung claim nila walang basehan,” he stressed.
(We have two documents proving we have sovereign rights over areas in our EEZ. China has none, and their claim has no basis.)
Lorenzana issued the remarks after China reiterated its demand that the Philippines remove the BRP Sierra Madre that has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999.
In a press conference in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian justified the presence of Chinese personnel near the Philippine ship on Tuesday which Lorenzana complained about, describing it as China's form of "intimidation and harassment" during a resupply mission to Filipino troops stationed in Ayungin.
Zhao claimed anew that Ayungin Shoal, known in China as Ren'ai Jiao, is part of Nansha Qundao, the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands, which is also being claimed in part by the Philippines.
“Ren'ai Jiao is part of China's Nansha Qundao. China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its grounded vessel on Ren'ai Jiao. This position remains unchanged. This delivery of food and other supplies is a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations," Zhao said.
Responding to the claim about the removal of BRP Sierra Madre, Lorenzana said, "As far as I know, there is no such commitment."
"That ship has been there since 1999. If there was commitment, it would have been removed long time ago," he said.
The Philippines ran the BRP Sierra Madre aground at the Ayungin Shoal to assert Manila's claim to sovereignty in the area after China occupied the Mischief Reef in the mid-1990s. A small Filipino military contingent has been based on the rusty ship since.
The 2016 arbitration award on the South China Sea also ruled that Mischief Reef, which China has now fortified into a military installation, is within the Philippines' EEZ and continental shelf.
Tensions over the hotly contested waters have spiked in the past week after Chinese coast guard ships water-cannoned Filipino boats trying to deliver supplies to personnel at the BRP Sierra Madre.
The 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing continues to disregard it.
Some foreign governments have asked relevant parties to adhere to the UNCLOS and the arbitral award on the South China Sea.
Vice President Leni Robredo said she hoped the Philippines would be "very consistent" in rejecting China's demands over the waterway.
"Nakikita naman natin na kapag consistent tayo nagba-back off naman. Kapag consistent tayo sa posisyon natin, nakukuha natin iyong tulong at cooperation ng ibang mga bansa at ito naman iyong pinaglalaban natin from the very start," the opposition leader said in a chance interview.
(We see that when we are very consistent, they back off. When we are consistent with our position, we get the help and cooperation of other countries, and this is what we have been fighting for from the very start.)
"Hindi naman tayo kailangang makipag-debate. Klaro na bahagi ito ng ating EEZ at mayroon tayong sovereign rights over dito. Dapat iyong enjoyment ng resources doon ay exclusive para sa mga Pilipino," added Robredo, who is seeking the presidency in the 2022 elections.
(We need not debate. It is clear this is part of our EEZ and we have sovereign rights over this. The enjoyment of resources there should be exclusive for Filipinos.)
Her running mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed a resolution seeking a legislative inquiry on how Chinese actions affect the livelihood of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.
A separate House of Representatives resolution filed this week sought an investigation into China's blockade at Ayungin Shoal.
Sen. Joel Villanueva backed the Philippine rejection of China's demand to leave the shoal, saying "Trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order."
"Its recent statement telling us to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal is another display of utter arrogance and aggression that we must not take sitting down," said Sen. Grace Poe, who urged government to step up efforts to rally neighbors and form a "united front" against China.