The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday filed a diplomatic protest against the presence of Chinese ships in Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said the protest was filed against China on May 10. The note verbale was received by the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
“We filed with the Chinese Embassy in Manila our protest on the provocative and illegal presence of Chinese government ships around Ayungin Shoal, an integral part of our national territory,” Hernandez told reporters.
He said there were two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and one warship in the shoal.
Ayungin Shoal is located 105 nautical miles away from Palawan province and “constitutes part of our 200 nautical miles Philippine continental shelf as proided under [the]Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea],” Hernandez said.
“The Philippines calls on China to respect the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its continental shelf, including waters around the shoal. China’s interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law, particularly Unclos, the UN [United Nations] charter and the DOC [Declaration on the Code of Conduct],” he added.
The DOC is a signed non-binding agreement between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to reduce political tensions and supervise the conduct of claimant-countries in the resource-rich region.
It is also the basis for the more binding Code of Conduct (COC) that has yet to be agreed upon by countries claiming parts of the WPS, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. But like the DOC, the COC is not a dispute settlement mechanism.
Earlier reports from the Philippine Navy said that a Chinese Navy ship was seen escorting a fleet of Chinese fishing vessels in the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal. Last week, the mayor of Kalayaan municipality in Palawan also alleged that Filipino fishermen sighted two foreign vessels in the disputed waters.
The Department of National Defense and the military confirmed the presence of Chinese ships in the shoal, also known as Second Thomas Reef.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano said there were several Chinese ships in the area, mostly fishing vessels.
According to Gazmin, all the ships were flying the Chinese flag and were fishing on Philippine waters.
Hernandez said it was Gazmin who asked the DFA to file a protest.
“We will do this in a calm manner so that it will not be interpreted that we are looking for a fight,” Gazmin told reporters.
Ayungin Shoal is part of Kalayaan, a municipality of Palawan province. The Philippine government built a 1.3 kilometer airstrip in the area to accommodate planes that deliver troops and supply.
Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon earlier claimed that they were harassed by a Chinese ship when they passed the shoal on their way back to Palawan from Pag-asa Island.
The mayor was on board M/T Queen Seagull, along with 133 other Kalayaan residents and 14 crewmembers, when the incident happened.
On May 8, China announced that it was sending a large fishing fleet to the Spratlys. The fleet, composed of at least 30 vessels, will be in the Spratlys for 40 days.
This was not the first time Chinese intruded into Philippine territories. From April to June last year, a naval standoff occurred between the two countries after Beijing placed several of its ships in the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
Currently, China has effective control of the shoal since Philippine vessels have been withdrawn from the area in June last year.
Manila and Beijing are locked in an intensifying territorial dispute over the waters and islands of the West Philippine Sea, which are believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits. China was further angered when the Philippine brought the dispute before the UN-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) on January 19.
The tribunal will hear the case filed by Manila, which challenged China’s claim on the WPS based on its nine-dash line, which covers the whole region.
‘What belongs to us belongs to us’
Amid the diplomatic rows with China and Taiwan, President Benigno Aquino 3rd expressed confidence that the Philippine Navy is now more capable of defending the country from external threats.
In his speech during the observance of the navy’s 115th anniversary, Aquino said he expects the Philippine Navy to defend the country’s territory and uphold the sovereignty against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
“Sa ating agenda ng mabuting pamamahala, malinaw ang pahiwatig natin ngayon sa buong mundo: Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas, at kaya nating pumalag at ipagtanggol ang sarili tuwing may sisindak sa atin sa loob mismo ng ating bakuran [In keeping with our agenda of good governance, we tell this to world loud and clear: what belongs to us belongs to us, and we can defend ourselves whenever faced with security threats],” the President said, as he urged his bosses, the Filipino people, to be calm in the midst of adversities.
“Sa tumitibay at bumibilis nating paglalakbay sa tuwid na landas, patuloy po nating pairalin ang hinahon at pagtitimpi sa bawat pagkakataon, at lagi nating isapuso’t isabuhay ang paglilingkod sa ating kapwa Pilipino [As we tread stronger and faster towards the straight path, we should continue to be calm and exhibit self control at all times and we should take it to heart to serve our fellow Filipinos],” he added
Mr. Aquino, on one hand, vowed to strengthen the Navy’s capability under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization plan.
The Philippine government, he said, will buy three multi-purpose attack crafts, eight amphibious assault vehicles, frigate and anti-submarine warfare-capable helicopters.
”Ang gusto natin: maramdaman ng Pilipino ang seguridad at kaligtasan nasaan man siyang panig ng bansa o mundo naroon [We want Filipinos to feel secured and safe wherever they may be],” the President added
The President said government has allocated more than P28 billion for the AFP Modernization and Capability Upgrade Program, allowing the military to acquire the country’s first Hamilton class cutter, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar used to patrol the country’s borders, and a Filipino-made landing utility craft, the BRP Tagbanua.
A second class cutter is set to arrive in August, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.
”Sa pagpasok natin sa second-half ng ating termino, malinaw ang panibagong mandatong ipinagkaloob sa atin ng taumbayan: ang ituloy at lalong palakasin ang mga repormang isinusulong natin sa tuwid na daan [ As we enter the second half of our term, we have a fresh mandate to the people to continue strengthening the reforms we have pushed towards the tuwid na daan],” he added.