PHILIPPINE Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has ordered the filing of a new diplomatic protest against China over the presence of some 287 Chinese militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“@DFAPHL (Department of Foreign Affairs), fire diplomatic protest,” the diplomat said in a tweet on Thursday, May 13.
On Wednesday, May 12, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) released a report saying that a maritime patrol sighted a total of 287 Chinese maritime militia ships over various features near the Municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan, both within and outside the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
It also noted that bigger groupings of Chinese maritime militia were spotted at the artificial islands built by China in the area as well as Philippine-occupied islands.
For its part, the NTF WPS assured that it will continue asserting the country’s territorial and sovereignty rights over the contested waterway.
“The National Task Force remains guided by the national policy and interest in asserting our territorial and sovereignty rights as upheld by the 2016 arbitral ruling,” it said.
“The articulation of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte at the 75th UN General Assembly emphasizing that the ruling is now part of international law and beyond compromise remains the supreme expression of foreign policy by this government. We reiterate that the Philippines shall continue to defend its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, and shall not yield an inch of our territory,” the body added.
However, Locsin slammed the NTF WPS for supposedly breaking protocols when it failed to inform the DFA of the Chinese maritime militia sightings.
“First NTF-WPS will explain to me why it made a press release and did not inform the DFA first so the only news today would be DFA FIRES DIPLOMATIC PROTEST OVER PRESENCE OF 287 CHINESE VESSELS,” he said in a tweet.
“When press released first it states the fact of alien presence in Philippine territory construable as possession – once again – until a diplomatic protest is filed. If the only news is diplomatic protest over alien presence you kill 2 birds with 1 stone: possession & claim of right,” he continued.
In a separate tweet, Locsin said: “Maybe these idiots will have learned the protocol next time. I took this up with the President in Davao. We have a disease: everybody and his uncle wants to be a hero fighting China from the anonymity of a task force.”
NTF WPS counters Roque
In its report, the NTF WPS maintained that Julian Felipe Reef is part of the Philippine EEZ, following Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement saying otherwise.
“The JFR is a low tide elevation (LTE) located 175 NM from Bataraza, Palawan and within our 200 NM EEZ. It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12 NM territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the municipality of Kalayaan,” it said.
On Tuesday, Roque pointed out that the Philippines was “never in possession” of Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
“We’re making a big thing out of the fact, when that area was never under our possession,” he said.
Later in the day, the spokesman clarified that his statement doesn’t mean that the country is abandoning its claim over Julian Felipe Reef.
“We reiterate that the Philippines has claim — and has never abandoned our claim — over Julian Felipe Reef by virtue of a Presidential Decree (PD) issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos saying it is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands,” said Roque.
He also said that Julian Felipe Reef should be “delimited under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), given the overlaps of maritime zones.”
“The basis of our claim is that while Julian Felipe Reef is indeed within our 200 nautical miles of EEZ, it nonetheless forms part of the territorial sea generated by two High Tide Elevations (HTEs) currently occupied by China (Mckennan) and Vietnam (Sin Cowe),” explained Roque.
“Per the 2016 SCS (South China Sea) Arbitral Award, these HTEs generate a Territorial Sea, which is prior to an EEZ under the UNCLOS,” he added.