The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged two more diplomatic protests against China on Wednesday, even as eight local business groups joined Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other government officials in calling on the Chinese to withdraw their ships from Julian Felipe Reef.
Beijing, however, has yet to officially react to the protests, which saw organizations of the country’s top businessmen – many of them with Chinese ancestry -- joining citizens’ groups, lawmakers, and other government officials in objecting to the naval incursions for the first time yesterday.
The latest DFA protests, done for the third straight day, were filed over reports that over 240 Chinese vessels are “swarming” in various reefs and islands in the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.
Locsin issued the order even as he chided the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea for “leaking” the information to the media.
The first protest, he said, is the daily protest the DFA said it would do as long as there are ships by the Julian Felipe Reef, while the second is for the dispersal or displacement of Chinese ships to other parts of the country’s maritime zones.
In a joint statement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, the Filipina CEO Circle, the Judicial Reform Initiative, the Cebu Business Club, and the Iloilo Business Club said Julian Felipe Reef is historically and by law undisputed Philippines’ territory, as was most clearly established in the 2016 ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
“Our exclusive right over the Julian Felipe Reef carries with it the utilization of, and the obligation to protect, its economic benefits, such as its rich marine life and mineral deposits, for the well-being of each and every Filipino,” the group said.
“China and the Philippines share many things in common including being subjugated by colonizers and having their natural resources plundered. Now that China is strong economically and militarily, we call on China to refrain from becoming an imperial power.”
The businessmen said: “In 1974, Deng Xiaoping said ‘If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.’”
“We call on the Chinese authorities to respect the sovereignty of the Philippines and other neighboring countries for it is only through peaceful co-existence that we can achieve prosperity for all,” they added.
However, Malacañang said the Philippines has stepped up its presence in the waterway amid China’s incursions into the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“The presence of Philippine maritime security and law enforcement forces have been stepped up in the municipality of Kalayaan to protect Filipino fishermen and the marine resources,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Wednesday.
Roque likewise reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte, during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September last year, stressed the importance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling on the Philippines’ petition against China’s sweeping claims over the contested South China Sea.
He added that the NTF-WPS is “consistent” in invoking Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
In the House, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon filed a resolution condemning the continued harassment of Filipinos by Chinese forces in the West Philippine Sea. The resolution refers to the incident in which a Chinese Coast Guard vessel chased a civilian vessel away from Philippine waters.
“[T]he April 8 incident is part of continuing actions of the People’s Republic of China to harass Filipinos in waters where they have the right to pass and exploit under international law,” Biazon said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who has been very vocal on West Philippine Sea issues, slammed the Palace over its apparent silence on the presence of Chinese vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“What is Malacañang waiting for? The Department of National Defense has spoken. The Department of Foreign Affairs has spoken. My fellow senators and I have already spoken. All of us condemn China’s intrusions. Malacañang should do something already,” she said.
Hontiveros said the recent development only shows that China is “truly intent on refusing any diplomatic means of resolving our disputes.
“The Palace should confront its ‘best friend’,” she said. “Like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region are taking action to ensure the rules-based international order. Yet, Malacañang hesitates.”
Hontiveros also earlier revealed that China now owes the Philippines over P800 billion due to the ecological damage in the West Philippine Sea. (See related story – Editors)
“At the rate China is going, she can easily deplete all our marine life, wealth, and resources in the WPS in no time. I call on Malacañang: do something about this now. We cannot afford to lose more than we already have,” she said.
On Tuesday night, the NTF-WPS issued a statement denouncing the continuous swarming of over 240 Chinese ships composed of “Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia” in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippine government reiterates its demand upon China to withdraw all its vessels from the Municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ,” the NTF-WPS statement read.
Still, the Chinese Foreign Ministry appealed to some Philippine officials to stop “hyping” and giving negative reactions to the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
“We hope certain Philippine officials can stop hyping up (sic) the issue and avoid producing a negative impact on bilateral relations and peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a press briefing on April 13.
The NTF-WPS apparently infuriated Locsin for failing to immediately communicate with concerned agencies, particularly the DFA, regarding the latest situation in the West Philippine Sea.
Created in March 2016, the NTF-WPS is chaired by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and the DFA maintains a seat as a member of the task force along with all key departments of the national government.
On Monday, the DFA summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian conveying the government’s protest over the continued presence of Chinese vessels around the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef.
DFA Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso invoked the July 2016 arbitral award that invalidated Beijing’s excessive claims over the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said it will continue to conduct air and naval patrols off the West Philippine Sea to provide a firm basis for diplomatic protests filed by the country due to continued Chinese incursions in the area.
“The Armed Forces will not stop its patrolling and sending of reports so that there is always new data for the DND and DFA to base their diplomatic protests,” AFP spokesman Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a radio interview.
Arevalo added that information from patrols will also keep the country’s allies informed regarding the issue.
“This is for the allied nations to see the development here in the Philippines. In fact, this development has already triggered reactions from the United States and other countries like Japan, Australia, Canada and others that are favorable to the Philippines,” he said.
He said they are now coordinating with other government agencies capable of conducting maritime patrols like the Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the Philippine Coast Guard, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Maritime Group of the Philippine National Police to a limited extent.
He also said they are now planning to include media members in patrol activities for them to “see for themselves” the developments in the disputed waters.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said it was “time to stand up against these bullies,” referring to China.
“We cannot anymore take this bullying, insulting, and disrespect by China towards us,” Barbers said.
“This is totally unacceptable. We must assert our sovereignty and jurisdiction within our boundaries. Like the other countries contesting China’s claims, we must make our presence felt. Our naval ships should accompany our fishermen to catch fish in the disputed waters to feed our population.”
“We are well within our exclusive economic zone, a territorial right recognized and based on all legal and accepted doctrines and principles of international law and modern-day civilization,” Barbers said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Biazon also took exception to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) statement calling out Filipino journalists’ “insatiable desire to get ahead in reporting,” saying that instead of taking issue with that, the AFP “should be more concerned that Filipinos were harassed in their area of responsibility.”
“There should be an insatiable desire to get ahead in defending Filipinos and Philippine rights,” he said.
“We should even thank Chiara Zambrano for providing valuable intelligence information on Chinese navy operations just 90 nautical miles from Palawan,” he said, referring to the ABS-CBN journalist whose boat was chased away by Chinese vessels.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the filing of diplomatic protests against China may no longer be enough.
“China clearly does not accept accountability and even insisted that Julian Felipe Reef which is clearly part of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is theirs,” Zarate said in a statement.
He said China has practically thrown to the garbage the previous diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines as it continuously violates the territory of the Philippines and tramples on its sovereign rights.
Zarate said the President can resort to UNCLOS and other treaty bodies to demand justice for what China is doing.
“Malacañang must assert the historic Permanent Tribunal ruling in 2016 and abandon now its so-called ‘soft-landing policy’ in its pivot to China.”
“It is high time that the government now pursue a truly independent foreign policy that is equidistant from the competing imperialist interests of China and Western powers led by the US,” he said.
Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima, meanwhile, expressed alarm over the increasing presence and relentless intrusion of Chinese militia vessels within the country’s waters.
She filed a resolution urging the Executive branch to exert all legal and diplomatic actions on the Chinese government in asserting Philippine sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Duterte administration’s refusal to strongly invoke our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and opting instead to adopt a policy of appeasement towards Chinese militarization may result in condoning the continued unlawful actions of the Chinese government that assault our sovereignty in the WPS,” she said.
“Silence and softness, if not inaction on the part of our President on a clear breach of our sovereignty only serves to weaken our territorial integrity for future generations,” she added.
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