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DFA notes ‘daily bullying’ in SCS

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Complains Chinese harassment deprives PH rightful use of its EEZ

Regular harassment by Chinese in the disputed South China Sea has deprived the Philippines of the rightful use of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo told a security conference in Munich, Germany over the weekend.

Speaking during a panel discussion on “Defending the United Nations (UN) Charter and the Rules-Based International Order,” Manalo said these actions had hindered Manila from maximizing the resources in its 200-nautical-mile EEZ.

“On a day-to-day basis, there are still many events occurring in the South China Sea, and there are daily incidents, at least as far as we see it, of cases of harassment or land reclamation, which in many cases have been depriving the Philippines of the use of our exclusive economic zone,” he said during the Munich Security Conference panel session on Saturday, a recorded video of which was released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“It is these challenges which the Philippines and other countries in our region face, especially those who have claims also in the South China Sea,” Manalo said.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said in a statement on Sunday that its troops are “always ready to provide a safer, more peaceful and progressive country.”

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The AFP said it “will always be resolute in ensuring the interest of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea,” under the guidance of PresidentFerdinand Marcos Jr.’s vision laid out in his speech during the alumni homecoming at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City on Saturday.

President Marcos reiterated his pledge to keep every inch of Philippine territory.

“This country will not lose one inch of its territory. We will continue to uphold our territorial integrity and sovereignty in accordance with our Constitution and with international law. We will work with our neighbors to secure the safety and security of our peoples,” Marcos said.

Also, the AFP asked Filipinos for their “support and prayers for the Armed Forces, and the Philippine Coast Guard in the conduct of maritime patrols to protect and preserve what rightfully belongs to us,” the statement added.

Since the beginning of 2023, the DFA had lodged nine notes verbales and diplomatic protests before China, whose “increasing intensity of actions” against Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) have been openly criticized by President Marcos.

Manalo said the Philippines continues to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling, which stated that China’s nine-dash line over the vital sea lane is illegal.

As Manila asserts this decision, Manalo said the UN could further help by creating greater awareness on the importance of a rules-based maritime order.

Manalo said the Security Council could initiate an open debate not necessarily on the arbitral award but on “rule and order to prevail in the maritime domain and the South China Sea”.

“I think discussions like that would help create greater awareness on the importance of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and also maintaining a rules-based order so that any disputes or conflicts are settled through the rule of law and through peaceful means and not through coercive measures or aggressive moves,” he said.

The call came amid heightened tensions between the Philippines and China after the latter’s coast guard flashed a military-grade laser against a Filipino vessel on Feb. 6, temporarily blinding its crew.

In the same panel discussion, Manalo clarified that the maritime row over the WPS would not be the sum total of Beijing and Manila relations.

“It’s a very complex situation, the Philippines and other countries in the region have very strong links with China on the economic and cultural front. So that creates greater, more complexity to the situation,” he said.

While in Munich, Manalo said he had a “candid exchange” with Ambassador Fu Ying, vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of China.

“We talked about the latest incidents around Ayungin Shoal and how to further strengthen (Philippine-China) relations while managing our maritime differences and regional security challenges in Indo-Pacific,” Manalo said.

International attention

In a radio interview on Sunday, Senator Francis Escudero said the government is on the right track in handling the WPS while commending President Marcos for maintaining strong relations with China and the United States.

Escudero also noted that the administration, including the military, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the DFA are more active in issuing separate statements compared to previous administrations.

The latest incident involved a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel reportedly directing a military-grade laser light at a PCG ship on a rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal at the WPS on Feb. 6.

Escudero said the actions taken by the government gained international attention as some countries, including the US, Australia, and Japan, also condemned the Chinese action.

Mr. Marcos’ comments came days after the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest over China Coast Guard’s use of military-gradelaser, and dangerous maneuvers against Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Malapascua on Feb. 3.

In the same speech, the President also said the laser-pointing incident was only a part of the rising tension over the maritime dispute.

“The laser-pointing incident was only a part of what we are seeing as intensifying or escalating the actions of the militia—marine militia of China, the coast guard of China, and the navy of China,” he said.

But Mr. Marcos also emphasized what he told Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian during their meeting in Malacañang: “We have to find a wayaround this because if we are such close friends such as China and the Philippines, these are not the kind of incidents that we should be talking about.”

Also over the weekend, Senator Francis Tolentino disagreed with a suggestion that the laser incident was cause enough to invoke the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

While the incident was a cause for alarm, he said, it could not be considered an armed attack.

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