Over 100 Chinese vessels were spotted again “illegally operating” in and around the waters of Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea last April 4, the Department of Foreign Affairs Thursday.
In a statement, the DFA said they protested the “return” of the swarming of Chinese vessels, which they noted happened barely a year after their first complaint over the massing of more than 220 ships in the area.
The protest was lodged on June 6. This is on top of “almost daily” diplomatic protests — over 300 — filed against China for various incursions in the South China Sea during the six-year term of the Duterte administration, a senior Philippine diplomat told Business Mirror.
Shaped like a wide boomerang, Julian Felipe Reef is located around 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza town of Palawan. It is the largest reef in the Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Reefs — a string of reefs, a number of which were already occupied by China and Vietnam.
Manila claims Julian Felipe Reef is part of its territorial sea and has sovereignty. It is located within the Kalayaan Island Group and near the Chigua (Johnson South) Reef which the arbitral tribunal had earlier declared as a high tide elevation and is entitled to 12 nautical miles territorial waters.
“The lingering unauthorized presence of Chinese fishing and maritime vessels is not only illegal, but is also a source of instability in the region,” the DFA stressed.
The presence of more than 100 Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef “is contrary to the international law” including the 1982 UN Convention on the Sea and the “final and binding” 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling. It also reminded China’s commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, particularly in “exercising self-restraint.”
The DFA said it “regrets this Chinese violation of international law” which they learned days after the tele-summit between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 8. Both leaders had earlier reaffirmed their commitment to exercise restraint in “any and all endeavors” relating to the South China Sea dispute.
“The Philippines calls on China to comply with its obligations under international law, cease and desist from displaying illegal and irresponsible behavior, avoid further escalating tensions at sea and immediately withdraw all of its vessels from Philippine maritime zones,” the DFA added.