Lorenzana on Chinese call to stop PH sea drills: ‘They are the intruders’
MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Wednesday rejected China’s call for a stop to Philippine maritime exercises within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“They are the intruders,” the defense chief told reporters. “They have no authority or legal basis to prevent us from conducting these exercises within the WPS. That’s ours,”
He pointed out that the Philippine claim was supported by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2016 arbitral award.
Lorenzana said Unclos “gave us sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources” in waters within the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ while the arbitral tribunal ruling categorically rejected China’s so-called historic rights over the waters.
“Therefore, it is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave,” he said.
China on Monday doubled down on its claims to the waters.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a press briefing in Beijing that the Philippines should “stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.”
He asserted China’s sovereignty over Nansha Islands, Zhongye Island and Zhongsha Islands, including Huangyan Island and their adjacent waters.
“We urge the relevant side to respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests,” Wang said.
Nansha is the Chinese name for the Spratlys, which includes the Kalayaan Island Group that is part of Palawan province. Zhongye Island is Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, while Huangyan is Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.
Coast Guard drills
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday said it has been conducting drills in the WPS since last week to secure “our maritime jurisdiction.”
The PCG sent BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) to Panatag, while BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409), BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) and a ship from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) were deployed to Pag-asa.
The Philippines bolstered its presence in its EEZ after China parked hundreds of militia vessels at Julian Felipe reef last month.
More men to be sent
“It is they (Chinese) who are complicating the situation by their illegal occupation of reefs which they built into artificial islands … insisting to stay within our West Philippine Sea,” Lorenzana said.
Within the past decade, China reclaimed land on seven reefs, including several within the country’s EEZ, to build artificial islands which they turned into military outposts with airstrips and missile silos.
In a statement on Wednesday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) assured Filipinos of continuous maritime patrols.
It said the PCG and BFAR, with the help of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group (PNP-MG) “are closely coordinating in the continuous regular deployment of vessels in the country’s maritime domain for law enforcement, monitoring, ensuring the safety of the Filipino fishermen, and protecting the environment.”
According to the NTF-WPS, more PNP-MG personnel will be stationed at Pag-asa and assigned as “ship riders” on PCG, BFAR and Navy vessels.
Naval vessels and military aircraft will also conduct patrols over Kalayaan, Panatag and the rest of the western seaboard, the NTF-WPS said.
On April 22, the patrols spotted three Chinese coastguard ships at Panatag and near Pag-asa and Ayungin. Nine Chinese fishing and maritime militia vessels were still at Julian Felipe on Wednesday.
“These incursions are under review for the possible filing of appropriate diplomatic actions,” the task force said.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., NTF-WPS chair, said the 200 Chinese ships that had swarmed Julian Felipe in early March had likely dispersed to China’s artificial islands due to the constant filing of diplomatic protests against China and Lorenzana’s actions.
80 protests filed
Locsin on Wednesday shrugged off Beijing’s calls on Manila to stop its maritime exercises.
“[W]e must not fail to protest. @DFAPHL have we fired off a diplomatic protest? Do it now,” Locsin instructed the DFA in a post on Twitter on Wednesday.
“They can say what they want from the Chinese mainland; we continue to assert from our waters by right of international law what we won in The Hague,” he added, referring to the arbitral award.
The DFA said the Philippines has filed at least 80 diplomatic protests against Chinese incursions since President Duterte took office.
—WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, FRANCES MANGOSING AND JEROME ANING
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