‘Aggressive action’ in Ayungin hit
The Philippine government on Thursday accused China of “aggressive action” in Ayungin Reef, and demanded that it immediately withdraw all its military presence from the area.
Ayungin is one of the reefs of the Kalayaan Island Group located within the country’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
“They should not be there. They do not have the right to be there,” said Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a television interview.
“This is actually considered by us as an aggressive action of China to project their so-called nine dash line claim which is violative of international laws, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, for his part, said that China has “gone too far” in invading what is clearly a Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.
Gazmin said that China was obviously trying to bully the Philippines by threatening the country with its military might.
But he added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is ready to defend its territory and sovereignty.
The government, however, failed to match its rhetoric with force, and instead insisted on resolving the issue through diplomacy, as Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said that Manila had already filed a diplomatic protest against China over the encroachment on Ayungin.
“We are waiting for China’s response to our note verbale,” Valte said.
“We will follow the peaceful resolution approach. Our military is continuously monitoring their presence,” she added.
Gazmin himself said that because the government decided to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels, the military could not just confront the Chinese intruders in Ayungin.
Gazmin reported that as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, there were at least a Chinese military frigate (warship), two maritime ships, and several fishing vessels which were illegally conducting fishing activities and harvesting corrals and other resources on Ayungin Reef.
Gazmin also reported that the Chinese continues to put up structures on the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, another disputed area located some 120 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales.
He said the floaters and structures were meant to bar Filipino fishermen from entering the area.
The Panatag issue had prompted Manila to bring the issue before the UN for international arbitration and hopefully determine if the disputed maritime area belongs to the Philippines or to China.
But this irked China and sent in retaliation its flotilla of fishing vessels escorted by naval warships to the Spratly Islands in Ayungin Reef.
Gazmin maintained that Ayungin Reef was still a part of Philippine territory.
“’Yung Ayungin Reef naman ay maliwanag na nasa loob ng ating bansa, kasama ‘yan ng ating continental shelf. It is only about 110 nautical miles, o 120 kilometers, from Rizal, Palawan. So as far as we are concerned hindi disputed ‘yan, atin yan e,” Gazmin said.
For more than a year since the standoff, China had continued to strengthen its occupation on the shoal, as well as exploiting its resources.
In March 2012, the Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar tried to arrest the Chinese fishing vessels caught poaching in Panatag, but a Chinese maritime vessel blocked and barred the Navy from arresting the fishermen. This led to a standoff, which continues up to this day. With Florante Solmerin