DFA to China: Stop interfering

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THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has “firmly asked” China’s Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian to ask his government to “stop interfering in legitimate Philippine activities” in the West Philippine Sea, an official said on Monday.

DFA spokesman Ma. Teresita Daza said that Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro issued a note verbale to Huang strongly protesting the use of a water cannon by a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel on a boat that was on a “regular rotation resupply and humanitarian mission to provide food, fuel, and other basic necessities with the Philippine military personnel stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal” on Saturday, August 5.

Daza said Lazaro urged China to comply with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2016 Arbitral Award in the South China Sea. She said the Philippines has filed 445 diplomatic protests over illegal actions in Philippine waters by the CCG and Chinese maritime vessels since 2020.

This year alone, the DFA filed 35 protests against China, she said.

Lazaro reiterated to Huang that the 2016 Arbitral Award “expressly stated that the Ayungin Shoal is within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

She also reminded China that its actions violate the 1972 International Regulation for Preventing Collisions at Sea, which requires states “to take steps necessary to assure safety at sea and prevent collisions.”

Lazaro also expressed disappointment that the DFA could not reach the Chinese ambassador “through the maritime communication mechanism for several hours while the incident was occurring,” Daza said during a joint press briefing with members of the National Task Force in the West Philippine Sea.

She maintained that the DFA “is one with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard in their pursuit of our shared mandate to protect and uphold our legal maritime entitlements.”

“For the record, we will never abandon Ayungin Shoal. We are committed to Ayungin Shoal,” National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Malaya told reporters Monday, using the Philippine name for Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

Saturday’s incident was the first time since November 2021 that the Chinese coast guard had used water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal.

“The Philippines condemns in the strongest terms the latest incident of harassment perpetrated by China Coast Guard, People’s Liberation Army Navy and Chinese maritime militia vessels,” said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which includes representatives of various government agencies.

“As a low tide elevation, Ayungin Shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law,” the task force said in a statement.

The Philippines insists the Second Thomas Shoal is part of its exclusive economic zone.

Reacting to the August 5 incident, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday said he would call for a command conference to determine how the Philippines will respond to China’s dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of a water cannon against Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels in Ayungin Shoal.

Speaking to reporters during a break in the distribution of government aid to flood victims in Malolos City, Bulacan, Marcos said he was waiting for China’s response and refused to discuss details of the incident.

“We continue to assert our sovereignty. We continue to assert our territorial rights in the face of all of these challenges and consistent with the international law and Unclos especially,” the President said. “That has always been our stand. But we still have to keep communicating with the Chinese government, with President Xi [Jinping], with Beijing. We still have to keep communicating with them because we need to really come to a conclusion.”

Alarming

Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, described the incident “as an alarming display of aggression and a violation of maritime norms and international law.”

Estrada noted that on June 30, PCG vessels experienced “similar aggressive action” during a regular operation to re-supply Philippine soldiers stationed in Ayungin.

“The freedom of navigation is a fundamental principle upheld by the international community, and any attempt to impede the lawful operations of another nation’s vessels in open waters is unacceptable,” he said.

“Such actions not only undermine regional stability but also erode trust and cooperation among neighboring countries,” Estrada said.

The Senate has already taken a firm stance against the repeated bullying and acts of harassment against the PCG.

Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri is calling for the revitalization of the country’s self-reliant defense posture program and the establishment of a local defense industry that will supply the needs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Zubiri said the Philippines could not afford to rely entirely on defense cooperation with foreign allies.

He pointed out that the Philippines is one of the top importers of arms in Southeast Asia, spending at least $338 million in arms imports in 2021.

“Our brave men and women of the Armed Forces deserve more, and they deserve better. We need to be able to produce our own needs in our own time,” Zubiri said.

“We have the resources, and we have the manpower and skills. I’m hopeful that we have now the political will to push this through,” he added.

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(c) 2023 The Manila Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.





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