The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday labeled as “illegal” the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels swarming around the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Pag-asa Islands are part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the DFA said in a statement sent to the media Thursday afternoon.
“Accordingly, the presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa and other maritime features in the KIG is illegal,” it added.
Such actions are a “clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” as defined under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the DFA statement read.
Ahead of the release of the statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday noted that “such actions when not repudiated by the country concerned, are deemed to have been adopted by it.”
“When a country lets its countrymen swarm into foreign territory and does nothing to drive them out, it is deemed to have endorsed and in effect adopted that aggressive act against a foreign country,” he said on his official Twitter account.
The Philippine government has observed that the Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers for sustained and recurring periods.
The DFA said these “swarming” tactics raise questions about their intent as well as “concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives.”
In its statement, the DFA asserted that the presence of Chinese vessels within the KIG, “whether military, fishing or other vessels,” will continue to be the subject of appropriate action by the Philippines.
Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana on Thursday confirmed that the country raised this issue during the two nations’ fourth meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism.
“It was discussed during the Philippine-China bilateral talks on the South China Sea held in Manila on April 2 to 3,” he told the Philippine News Agency in a text message.
Meanwhile, leftist lawmakers asked the Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional the government’s $62-million loan agreement with China to fund the construction of the Chico River irrigation pump project in the Cordillera region.
In their petition, lawmakers led by senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares also sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the loan deal where China could seize natural gas deposits in the Recto Bank if the Philippines defaults on its loan.
Taking the cue from arguments publicly raised by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the petitioners said the agreement violates several provisions of the 1987 Constitution as it contains an express waiver of sovereign immunity over the country’s patrimonial assets in favor of China.
They cited provisions of the contract showing that the government “has allowed its patrimonial assets to stand as security for unpaid obligations under this loan agreement. ‘Collateralization’ of patrimonial property for unpaid obligations under a foreign loan contract or as an award in an arbitral proceeding is unconstitutional and illegal.”
Specifically, they said, the contract violates Section 2, Article XII of the Charter, which reads: “All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the state. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the state.”
Carpio on Thursday urged the government to file a diplomatic protest against China to preserve the country’s sovereignty over its territorial sea.
“To preserve our sovereignty over our territorial sea around Pagasa, the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest. Otherwise, the Philippines will be deemed to have acquiesced to China’s claim that the waters around Pagasa belong to China under its nine-dash line claim,” Carpio said in a statement.
Carpio said China’s fishing vessels have no right to fish within the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of Pagasa.
“They can only exercise innocent passage in our territorial sea—meaning these vessels must transit in a straight, continuous and expeditious passage. These vessels cannot stop, loiter or even zig-zag in [and] out [of the] territorial sea,” he said.
The Court’s most senior magistrate also insisted that the country should also protest China’s seizure of Sanday Cay and two other sandbars.
“Sandy Cay, a high-tide sandbar, and two nearby low-tide sandbars are less than two nautical miles from Pagasa. These sandbars emerged within our 12 nautical mile territorial sea in Pagasa,” Carpio pointed out.
“Anything that emerges within our territorial sea is also our territory. That is well recognized under international law,” he said.
Sandy Cay was seized by China two years ago. However, no protest was filed by the Philippines despite its promise that it will do so. With PNA
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