DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday maintained that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal as it is within the nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Reacting to a Chinese foreign ministry statement that Ayungin Shoal is part of China's territory, Lorenzana pointed out that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) set the guidelines in regard to exclusive economic zones. Beijing is a signatory to the convention.

"Ayungin lies inside our EEZ which we have sovereign rights," Lorenzana told reporters.

"Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 Unclos which China [also] ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of."

Beijing anchors its territorial claim on the so-called nine-dash line which the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said has neither historic nor legal basis.

The Chinese foreign ministry also demanded the Philippines remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin as part of a "commitment."

Lorenzana said there was no commitment as far as he is concerned, citing that the BRP Sierra Madre, where the Philippine marine troopers are stationed to secure Ayungin and nearby areas, has been there since 1999.

"Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing," Lorenzana said.

He emphasized that the Philippines has two documents — the Unclos and the arbitral award — which prove that Manila has sovereign rights within the West Philippine Sea territory.

Early this month, Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and water bombed Filipino boats while on their way to Ayungin to deliver supplies for the soldiers.

'Main concern'

In a Stratbase forum held on Thursday, Lorenzana said that the "relatively peaceful and stable" Indo-Pacific region is only confronted with several territorial and border disputes.

Among these disputes include the West Philippine Sea, he said, which he pointed out was the "main concern" for Manila.

"While the Indo-Pacific is relatively peaceful and stable as we speak, its security is riven by territorial and border disputes," Lorenzana said.

"These conflicts pose a direct threat to regional security, cause reckless degradation of marine resources and deprive nations of opportunities for cooperation in the peaceful use of the seas," he added.

Also on Thursday, senators criticized China for demanding the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

Sen. Mary Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate public services committee, said China has no right to dictate what the Philippines can do within its waters.

"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," she stressed.

"Aside from diplomatic protests, the government should step up efforts in rallying our neighbors to form a united front against China in the South China Sea. Time and again, several nations have stood by us and shared our goal of ensuring peace, stability and harmony," she said.

"Mutual respect must always be the cornerstone of our relationship with any nation," she added.

Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva said trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order.

"Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf that is 104 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of Palawan and thus within our country's 200-nautical mile EEZ under Unclos," he added.

"Our ship has been there since 1999. To argue otherwise is to suffer from historical amnesia and geographical ignorance,'' Villanueva said.

"Sierra Madre, the ship, is a fixture as immovable as Sierra Madre, the mountain range. Eventually, the sea will be BRP Sierra Madre's final resting place. But no way should it be the graveyard of our sovereignty," he added.