Philippines rebukes China over fishing boats
The government on Thursday rebuked China for sending a large number of fishing vessels near islands and islets occupied by the Philippines in the heavily disputed South China Sea, calling the presence of the boats “illegal.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued the rare public rebuke of the Chinese presence on Philippine territory after the Armed Forces of the Philippines monitored more than 200 Chinese vessels from January to March in a disputed area named Sandy Cay near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.
“The presence of Chinese vessels near and around Pag-asa and other maritime features . . . is illegal,” the DFA said in a statement.
“Such actions are a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction as defined under international law,” it said.
The DFA said the Chinese vessels had been in the area “in large numbers and for sustained and recurring period, what is commonly referred to as ‘swarming’ tactics, raising questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives.”
“Such actions . . . when not repudiated by the Chinese government are deemed to have been adopted by it,” it said.
“The presence of Chinese vessels within the Kalayaan Island Group, whether military, fishing or other vessels, will thus continue to be the subject of appropriate action by the Philippines,” it added.
The DFA lodged diplomatic protests and raised concerns in meetings with Chinese officials after the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported that the Chinese vessels had been unresponsive to warnings from Philippine authorities.
Capt. Jason Ramon, spokesperson for the military’s Western Command (Wescom), said 275 Chinese fishing vessels had been monitored around Pag-asa, Zamora (Subi) Reef and the sandbars in the area since January.
“These are suspected maritime militia,” Ramon said.
“Of course, we challenge them. We warn them that they are entering Philippine territory. But almost all of them are unresponsive,” he said, adding that this was the reason Wescom recommended a diplomatic protest.
The DFA called on the Chinese government to adhere to the agreement announced by President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader’s visit to Manila in November last year “for both sides to exercise self-restraint with respect to activities in the South China Sea that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
“We call on the Chinese government to adhere to this consensus reached at the highest levels, down to its agencies and its military,” the DFA said.
The statement came after Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. fired a rare broadside at China on Twitter.
“When a country lets its countrymen swarm into foreign territory and does nothing to drive them out, it is deemed to have endorsed and in effect adopted that aggressive act against a foreign country,” Locsin tweeted on Thursday, commenting on a news report titled “China suddenly snatches new island.”
Locsin ordered the DFA to heed Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s advice to file a diplomatic protest as soon as possible over the situation on Pag-asa Island.
“OK guys at DFA, let’s look into this and file ASAP if not too late. Let’s see if we can undo the fuck-ups of previous administrations that sold us,” Locsin said.
Under Locsin’s predecessor, Alan Peter Cayetano, the DFA would not disclose what it had done about Chinese incursions into Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
President Duterte has pursued warmer ties with China since taking office in 2016, setting aside a UN arbitral court ruling in favor of the Philippines in a challenge to China’s claim over nearly all of the South China Sea, in exchange for billions of dollars of pledged loans and investment.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also oppose China’s sweeping claim over the strategic waterway.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday sought a Senate inquiry into the presence of Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa, calling it illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
“China is not only a state sponsor to illegal fishing, it is also openly disregarding our sovereignty and marine jurisdiction. It is a deep and dangerous incursion into our territories,” Hontiveros said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, AND AP