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Palace: China vessels have no business at PH’s Kota Island

LOOK: Chinese vessels spotted near PH-occupied Kota Island

In this photo taken on March 28, some of the Chinese fishing vessels loiter near the Philippine-occupied Kota Island in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Contributed photo

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Wednesday said the Chinese vessels seen near the Philippine-occupied Kota (international name: Loaita) Island in the Spratlys “have no business being there.”

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it would be “an assault on our sovereignty” if the vessels, said to be part of China’s maritime militia, continued “to be present in our territory.”

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Panelo said he was certain that Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. would file a diplomatic protest once reports of the Chinese vessels’ presence near Kota Island were verified.

Friendly trade relations

“[W]hile we remain friendly with [China] with respect to trade relations, we will always assert sovereignty when it is being impaired or assaulted,”  Panelo said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, he said, had asked China not to touch Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the largest of the 10 Philippine-occupied islands in the Spratly archipelago, after Chinese vessels also came near it.

President’s call

Asked whether the Chinese presence off Kota Island would prompt the country to turn to the United Nations arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines, Panelo said this was the call of the President.

Panelo said the President would also decide the country’s response if the Chinese vessels “refused to leave Philippine waters.”

“We will give [China] reasonable time to respond to our protest,” Panelo said.

In Cagayan de Oro City, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate on Tuesday said the Philippines must seek the help of other nations in the region to amplify its voice against China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

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At a press conference, the militant lawmaker said that since the country could not afford to go to war with China despite its occupation of parts of the West Philippine Sea, waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone, the best course of action was to rally the support of other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), especially those that are also claiming parts of the South China Sea.

Asean members Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei dispute China’s claim to waters near their shores.

“We can rally our neighbors who have the same claims there and engage China in a multilateral manner so that the proposed code of conduct in the South China Sea can be realized,” Zarate said.

The progressive group Makabayan Northern Mindanao Coalition also criticized the Duterte administration for “agree[ing] blindly to loan agreements with China” that  “will bring our country toward debt enslavement” because of exorbitant interest rates.

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TAGS: Maritime Dispute, Salvador Panelo, South China Sea, Teodoro Locsin Jr., West Philippines
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