FORMER Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario has urged the Philippine government to lodge a diplomatic protest against China after it established two new districts at the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
Del Rosario’s statement was in response to a report by the Chinese government-run China Global Television Network (CGTN) which quoted the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs as saying that Paracel (Chinese name: Xisha) and the Spratly (Chinese name: Nansha) districts were created and would be under Beijing.
One of the territories covered is the Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef, where the Philippines also has a claim.
Del Rosario, for his part, said China rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat at the South China Sea on April 3, which Manila condemned.
The former top diplomat also cited China's establishment of two research facilities in the artificial islands built at the Fiery Cross and Subi (Zamora) reefs.
According to del Rosario, the moves by China showed its "relentless" exploitation of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, which was first traced to Wuhan in Hubei, China late last year.
"These show that China has been relentless in exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic as it continues to pursue its illegal and expensive claims in the South China Sea to the prejudice of Filipinos, the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) States and the international community as a whole," he said in a statement issued late Sunday night.
With this, del Rosario then urged the Philippine government to protest the establishment of the two new districts by China, similar to how it showed concern over the Chinese Coast Guard's sinking of the Vietnamese fishing vessel at the disputed waters.
"As we struggle against a pandemic that poses a real threat to our lives, we must not also risk losing our national patrimony upheld by international law and meant for present and future generations of Filipinos," del Rosario stressed.
Despite this, del Rosario also urged the Chinese government "to uphold global unity and mutual trust, and not to engage in needless provocations that may only be seen as abusive and may worsen the situation currently being confronted by the world."
The Philippines is among nations that has an overlapping claim at the South China Sea while China has demonstrated its claim over several territories in the sea by building various facilities, mounting several equipment and intercepting some ships coming across the waters.
President Rodrigo Duterte has adopted a softer stance on the territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing.
In June last year, a Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat near Recto (Reed) bank, also within the South China Sea. Government officials, including Duterte himself, has called this an "accident" without China's actions.