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Philippines ‘fires off’ diplomatic protest over Chinese vessels circling Pag-asa Island

/ 11:53 AM July 31, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has “fired off” a diplomatic protest over recent reports that hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted circling Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said this over Twitter on Wednesday after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said he recommended the filing of such protest.

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READ: Diplomatic protest sought vs Chinese vessels circling Pag-asa Island

“Diplomatic protest fired off,” Locsin said.

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Esperon said that last July 24, some 113 Chinese vessels were spotted circling Pag-asa Island, the Philippines’ biggest outpost in the contested waterway.

In a weekly media forum, Esperon said the motive behind the supposed swarming of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island is not yet clear.

“This is a subject of continuing study…When we looked at the composition of the vessels that are there we saw seven cargo vessels. Pero wala namang laman na pang-construct…So you can say na ‘Hindi kaya nagre-resupply lang ang mga ito kaya nandun sila lahat, parang logistics lang’,” he explained.

“You have 100 fishing vessels. Saan kukuha ng pagkain yo’n, it could be like that or it could be to prevent you from patrolling in that area or it could be a dry run..so many possibilities,” he further said.

This was not the first time Chinese vessels have been spotted near Philippine-occupied islands in the West Philippine Sea.

In March, the Philippine military monitored an extraordinary surge of vessels from a Chinese fishing fleet around Philippine-occupied islands around Pag-asa Island.

More than 600 Chinese fishing vessels were recorded surrounding the sandbars of the said island for the first quarter of 2019 alone.

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READ: Chinese sea militia swarms around Pag-asa Island – military 

Locsin said then that he had “fired off a salvo” of diplomatic protests over the incident then prior to his trip to Beijing.

Barely a month after, Chinese vessels believed to be part of China’s maritime militia were seen near two other Philippine-occupied islands in the contested waterway.

READ: Chinese vessels enter 2 more PH islands’ waters

A US-based think tank reported in April that some of the Chinese ships and boats were spotted as close as 1 kilometer off Kota (Loaita) and Panata (Loaita Cay), about 24 kilometers south of Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the biggest of nine islands and shoals occupied by the Philippines in the Spratlys.

In a previous television interview, Locsin said every incident reported to him by the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea was “a subject of a note that I sent out.”

Locsin also repeatedly said that he would only rely on information given by the military in filing diplomatic protests.

When further asked if he would consider Esperon’s call to file a diplomatic protest over fresh reports that Chinese vessels have been spotted near Pag-asa Island, the country’s top diplomat said: I did.

“I listen only to military intelligence; I distrust civilian sources of ‘misinformation,’” Locsin said in a separate tweet.

“When it comes to national security, I am the thinking trigger; the finger is the Commander-in-Chief and the Armed Forces which are the protector of people & state,” he added.

In 2016, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s so-called “nine-dash line” claiming nearly the entire South China Sea.

This after the Philippines filed a case before the Hague-based court in 2013 challenging China’s expansive claim in the area.  /muf

READ: PH wins arbitration case over South China Sea

READ: 3 years on, China barely observing arbitration ruling

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TAGS: China, Department of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Protest, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Pagasa Island, South China Sea, vessels
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