MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines Wednesday called on China to back off the country’s established maritime borders in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying any foray into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would be a violation of international law.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez issued the statement yesterday amid reports that China has deployed a large fleet of fishing vessels in the Kalayaan island group in the disputed Spratlys archipelago this week.
Hernandez reiterated the country’s exclusive rights to the area even though he said the country’s Navy and Coast Guard have yet to confirm any “sightings” of Chinese vessels approaching the Philippine maritime zone in the contested waters.
“We have not received any official confirmation from our monitoring agencies regarding the reported trip of about 30 Chinese fishing vessels to the West Philippine Sea. But for now, we would like to call on China to respect Philippine national territory and its sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone established in accordance with Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Hernandez told a press briefing yesterday.
Chinese state media on Monday reported that a fishing fleet had left the southern Chinese province of Hainan for a 40-day expedition in the West Philippine Sea, a reputedly resource-rich area wholly claimed by China against the partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Hernandez said China would be in violation of international law if its expedition would encroach into the known Philippine exclusive economic zone.
He said the maritime resources in the area belongs to the Filipino people and that the Philippines was entitled to defend that right.
“The Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction to explore its resources in the exclusive economic zone for the benefit of the Filipino people,” Hernandez said.
“The Philippines has an international obligation to ensure the sustainable management of these resources. China is in violation of international law if it interferes with the sovereign rights of the Philippines,” he said.
The Armed Forces on Wednesday directed its Western Command (Wescom) to “intensify” its monitoring of the West Philippine Sea and validate reports that China had sent its largest fleet to the disputed Spratlys group even as it said the Philippines stood ready to defend its territory and sovereignty.
Armed Forces spokesmaon Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan told a press briefing that the report of a Chinese flotilla having been deployed to the Spratlys area was on the agenda of Wednesday’s regular command conference presided over by Armed Forces Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.
Courses of action
Among the things that were discussed was “for us to determine what are the courses of action, what we may be able to undertake [if] this report is verified,” Tutaan said.
Asked what the military would do should the Chinese flotilla enter the Philippines’ EEZ, Tutaan replied that the government will have to exert its “integrity and sovereignty of our territory.”
“We will have to exert our integrity and the sovereignty of our territory but again we have to undertake it as a whole government decision or effort, and the DFA will again be in the lead as far as this is concerned,” he said.
In a separate statement, Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, the Navy’s spokesmaon on West Philippine matters, said Philippine Navy ships have been “patrolling the area.”
“We have sailors and marines stationed in or near the area that shall serve as our eyes and ears. But as of now, it’s too early to comment on what to do if they enter Philippine territory as that remains to be a contingency as of the moment,” Arevalo said.
He reiterated that the “guidance” from the AFP headquarters was to “continue to be vigilant, and monitor and report any unusual incidents obtaining in the area.”