DFA list shows 45 diplomatic protests filed vs China for aggression in West Philippine Sea
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has sent at least 45 diplomatic protests over Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016.
A list prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and seen by INQUIRER.net showed a summary of the diplomatic actions taken by the Philippine government over the past three years against China’s aggression in waters that Beijing is claiming to be entirely its own.
The document was submitted to Congress earlier this week during the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF West Philippine Sea) briefing for members of the House of Representatives.
The record provided, however, only indicated the nature of incidents and the number of times the protest was filed. It did not specify when those protests were filed.
The intrusion of Chinese vessels, both government and civilian militia, in Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea had been raised 18 times. The harassment by Chinese Navy, Coast Guard and militia of Filipino fishermen had been brought up eight times.
The Philippine government had also formally expressed concern five times about China’s construction of new structures in its artificial islands, which included maritime rescue shelters and weather monitoring stations.
It had also kept tabs on radio warnings against Philippine maritime patrols by protesting these six times.
Philippine government aircraft and vessels are known to receive Chinese radio warnings every time they patrol near Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, telling the Filipino patrols to stay away.
The Philippine government had also protested the firing of warning shots at a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese vessel, which was likely the incident reported in 2017 in the Spratly Islands.
The Philippines had also brought up four times China’s environmentally-destructive actions in the West Philippine Sea which included the use of cyanide and compressors for fishing and the harvesting of endangered giant clams.
It had also protested a fishing ban being enforced by China even in waters that are considered to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The list also included the protest over the ramming by a Chinese vessel of a Philippine fishing vessel in the Recto (Reed) Bank in June 2019. The Filipino boat sank, throwing 22 of its crewmen into the sea. The Chinese vessel left the Filipinos for dead in the middle of the dark waters.
Another “omnibus” diplomatic protest was filed in May 2018 for several other Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, the report read.
The DFA said that the written protests were based on verified intelligence and incident reports from the NTF West Philippine Sea and other security agencies or both.
The report said there was no one-is-to-one correspondence “as there are other considerations.”
Incidents of similar nature are sometimes combined, like the forming of swarms by Chinese vessels near Pag-Asa Island, poaching of endangered marine species and radio warnings against Philippine patrols or vessels, the DFA said.
Some incidents needed more data or study, like sightings of unmanned Chinese aerial vehicles.
The DFA said diplomatic actions by the Philippine government can be made through a bilateral consultation mechanism with China, bilateral meetings, discussions or statements in different multilateral or regional forums, verbal protests, demarches or foreign policy initiative and written protests.
Critics had slammed the government’s soft stance against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea which had become official policy after Duterte pivoted to China and Russia and admitted the Philippines can’t afford to go to war with the Asian giant to protect its territorial integrity.
China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. This has become clear in their aggressive actions in waters that it claims to be part of China.
The nine-dash line claim was invalidated by an arbitral court in 2016, but China simply ignored the ruling. Duterte, in the meantime, decided to sweep the ruling under the rug in exchange for closer ties with Beijing and hopefully more Chinese loans and investments.
Beijing appeared to continue its hostile actions against the Philippines and other claimants in the South China Sea despite protests filed by its neighbors.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said they have sent a new batch of notes verbale to China this year to raise concern about Beijing’s unfriendly actions.
The incidents in the protests, he said, included “challenges that goes on by one ship to another” in the West Philippine Sea, but he did not elaborate.
“We continue doing that as a matter of reminding the other side that it could be violative of sovereign rights,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the NTF West Philippine Sea meeting at the House earlier this week.
He said Philippine officials wanted to let the Chinese know that its actions are “not regular,” referring to incidents in Scarborough Shoal and other parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.