Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday said the Philippine government served a “salvo of diplomatic notes” to China over the presence of Chinese vessels near the Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea
“Before going to [a] successful China visit, I fired off salvo of diplomatic notes so I would not be accused of insincerity if, as suggested, I fired them off after the visit, which is sioki [cowardly],” Locsin said in a post on Twitter.
The statement came after he was tagged and asked on Twitter to confirm if the country filed a diplomatic protest against China after more than a hundred vessels suspected to be Chinese militia were sighted near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group.
In a follow-up tweet, Locsin reiterated that he sent the notes verbales on the Chinese activity before his four-day official visit to China last month where he met with State Counselor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, his counterpart.
“I sent notes verbales versus swarming before my China trip. You have my word on it and that is all you all get,” he said.
Locsin said the documents will not be made public.
In a recent television interview, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the diplomatic note would ask the Chinese government what the vessels were doing there.
Panelo, who met with Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jinhua on Monday, said the envoy recommended raising the issue during the two states’ Bilateral Consultation Mechanism meetings instead.
Meanwhile, a leftist lawmaker slammed Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Reforms Director Eduardo Gongona for warning that Filipino fishermen to avoid Panatag Shoal as it is occupied by Chinese vessels.
“Gongona just slapped his own face with his statement. Aside from obviously [surrendering] the claim of our country’s waters, he is outright violating the mandate of his own office,” Anakpawis party-list Rep. Airel Casilao said.
“Gongona just blabbered about not to execute Philippine laws in Panatag Shoal. Our government is very strict with Filipinos but very lax with the Chinese,” Casilao said.
Casilao also accused the BFAR’s current leadership of abandoning its office’ earlier claim in 2015 that Chinese reclamation projects in the West Philippine Sea caused the P4.8-billion economic loss for the country.
Former BFAR Director Asis Perez said the West Philippine Sea accounts for 26 percent of the country’s fishing grounds. Around 12,200 fishermen from Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan, and Palawan are known to fish there, Casilao added.
The Palace on Tuesday said Chinese fishing vessels could stay in the disputed waters off Pag-asa Island but those belonging to paramilitary forces must leave.
“If they want to fish there, they can fish,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told the ANC news channel.
The Chinese government, however, should “stop it if indeed they have knowledge of these militiamen or fishermen staying there and watching us.”
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, meanwhile, said the Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island may be keeping watch over the construction of a ramp and a runway on the island.
The Philippines is building a ramp that would allow Navy ships to get close to land for supply replenishment, Arevalo said.
The project will be followed by the construction of a runway, he said on radio dzMM.
A national security expert, on the other hand, told radio dzBB that the surge in the number of Chinese vessels could be due to the good fishing season.
Rommel Banlaoi, Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies president, said 80 percent of the vessels in the Spratlys captured in satellite photos were fishing vessels which were accompanied by the Chinese Coast Guard to protect them.
However, Banlaoi said China has also deployed armed civilians who are conducting military activities in the area. With PNA
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