MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said that based on a reconnaissance flight last Wednesday, only three Chinese government vessels were spotted at the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Hernandez said two of the vessels were maritime surveillance ships (CMS) and the third a fishery law enforcement command (FLEC) ship. He added that there were no Chinese fishing vessels inside the Scarborough shoal lagoon.
“During that overflight, no fishing vessels were seen inside the lagoon and even outside the lagoon,” Hernandez said.
He added that there was a net barrier seen at the entrance of the Scarborough Shoal lagoon.
When asked if the Chinese did not remove the said barrier, Hernandez said “Well it seems that they put it, then took it back, then put it again.”
He also said he hoped that China would not add more ships in the area.
Asked about the proposal for the country to ask the United Nations (UN) to deploy a peacekeeping force in the area, Hernandez said “Maybe we have not reached that extent where we have to employ that kind of undertaking.”
He added that the DFA was concentrating on political, diplomatic, and legal means to resolve the West Philippine Sea dispute.
He said that the political track involved the efforts in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to issue a binding code of conduct to prevent armed clashes in the area, the diplomatic track involved on-going consultations with China to break the stand-off and ease tensions in the Scarborough shoal dispute, and the legal track which involved efforts to avail of a dispute settlement mechanism through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
On reports about some 20 Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-Asa Island, Hernandez said that they have not received official confirmation on the reports.
China is claiming the Paracels and the Spratlys, and has put them under its administration through a new city called Sansha in June to strengthen its grip on the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are claiming parts of the Spratlys. But China claims all of those islands as well as other rock and coral formations in the West Philippine Sea believed to be sitting on vast oil and gas deposits. The islands also straddle major sea lanes vital to global trade.
When pressed by reporters about DFA’s reactions to statements by residents in Pag-Asa island saying that Chinese fishing vessels were fishing and getting corals in the area, Hernandez said “they confirm it through the media but we have not received any official communication from relevant agencies which we could use as basis for our action.”
Hernandez also maintained that China’s creation of Sansha City, and all its undertakings in the area which affect Philippine sovereignty and rights, was a violation of the existing principles of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or DOC.
“We have already filed a protest regarding the whole concept of Sansha city including what it is undertaking and its plans to oversee the whole area which we think is a violation as far as our law is concerned. Because the jurisdiction of which encompass the Kalayaan Island Group which is an integral part of Philippine territory,” Hernandez said.
“And this military garrison and other new undertakings in that area which affect our sovereignty and sovereign rights is clearly a violation of DOC,” Hernandez said.
He said the country would continue to file protests to violations to its sovereignty in areas in the West Philippine Sea.