Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday commended Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for demanding that China withdraws its fleet of militia ships swarming the Philippines’ Julian Felipe Reef for weeks now.
Drilon expressed support to the defense chief by emphasizing that it is about time the country stands up against the “maritime bullying” of China.
He added that the Philippines must take a strong stand on the continuous incursion of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as well as other areas within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by raising the 2016 Hague ruling.
“It is high time that the country as one nation stand up to China’s continued incursion in the WPS. By all accounts, it is maritime bullying,” the senator said.
“The Philippine government should pursue, and strongly and actively call for, the enforcement of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague,” he added.
Lorenzana on Sunday reiterated his warning for China to refrain from conducting activities in the disputed waters, accusing it that the continued presence of its maritime militia in the Julian Felipe reef reveals its intent to further occupy features in WPS.
“China should respect Philippine sovereignty over the Kalayaan Islands, and its sovereign rights over its EEZ as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and affirmed by the arbitral award,” he said in a statement.
“The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea. They have done this before at the Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and at the Panganiban Reef, brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law,” he added.
The Julian Felipe Reef, known internationally as Whitsun Reef, is one of the reefs outlining Pagkakaisa Banks, an oval-shaped submerged atoll located within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the WPS.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo reiterated the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the area saying that any intrusion is deemed an “intrusive and unacceptable act on those rights”.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, for her part, supported the calls of the government officials saying that the Philippines is not alone in its fight against China’s “continued deceit and aggression”.
“We need to act now. We need to expel these “fishing vessels” from our EEZ and dismantle all illegal structures on the reefs and features we claim. Every delay on our end is an opportunity for China to seize what is justly and rightfully ours,” she said in a statement.
“The international community stands beside us in condemning China’s continued deceit and aggression. China better pack up and leave. The world is catching on to China’s gray zone smokescreen,” she added.
On 7 March, at least 220 Chinese vessels were spotted in the reef which the Armed Forces believed to be those of China’s maritime militia.
This prompted Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin to lodge a diplomatic protest over its presence on 21 March.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila denied the military’s claim, insisting that the ships were fishing vessels taking shelter from bad weather.
Chinese officials said the reef which they call Niu’e Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Islands and added that the waters around the area have been traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen for many years.
In a separate statement, the DFA deplored the embassy’s response rejecting its assertion that the reef has been “traditional fishing grounds” for Chinese fishermen.
It added that regardless of their custom, the aliens should yield to laws pertaining to territories.
The agency echoed Lorenzana’s call for the withdrawal of Chinese ships claiming that he will lodge a diplomatic protest against China every day of delay.
It also slammed the embassy for calling the defense official’s statement as “unprofessional” reminding it that as guests of the government, its officials should adhere to protocols at all times.
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