Defense chief tells China to depart PH waters immediately.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has this terse message for China: Get out!
Lorenzana, as everyone knows by now, was referring to the huge fleet of over 200 China-flagged ships which have seemingly permanently weighed anchor inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, particularly in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), in gross violation of existing international laws.
In a strongly-worded statement against their bullying tactics, the PH Defense chief demanded that Beijing order the pull-out of the alleged fishing vessels that have been spotted by the Philippine Air Force swarming like a horde of locusts all over the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and in many instances encroaching in the country’s sovereign waters.
In line with this, the Department of Foreign Affairs filed a diplomatic protest – the second in two weeks – against Beijing of the stubborn refusal of the Chinese boats to leave the EEZ.
Initially, the Chinese ambassador claimed that the fishing boats were merely “sheltering” in Julian Felipe Reef due to inclement weather.
However, Lorenzana slammed this line of reasoning: “I am no fool. The weather has been good. Our Pag-Asa weather bureau says so…so they have no reason to stay there.”
Philippine officials said the semi-permanent stationing of the Chinese fishing vessels inside the country’s EEZ raises concerns about overfishing and destruction of marine environment, not to mention threat to freedom of navigation.
Lorenzana said China’s reluctance to order a total pull-out of the ships is part of a sinister plan to, once again, occupy choice areas inside the PH’s exclusive economic zone, as it had done before.
To counter Lorenzana’s “belligerent” accusation, the Chinese embassy insisted that Julian Felipe reef is part of China’s Nansha Islands and is a “traditional fishing ground” of the Chinese for many years.
Lorenzana said he found China’s “utter disregard” of international laws, particularly the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), “appalling.”
The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea confirmed that some 220 Chinese ships were anchored in military line formation inside Julian Felipe Reef last March 7.
And on March 30, a PAF aerial patrol spotted “illegal structures” built on Pagkakaisa Banks which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group.
He stressed that the Philippines claim to its EEZ territory stands of solid ground, while China’s nine-dash line claim has no factual basis.
Legislators, meantime, rallied behind the protestations of Sec. Lorenzana and praised him for his courage in standing up to the bullying actions of China, unlike his bosses in Malacanang.
Under international law, they said China cannot just impose its will on other sovereign nations in the ASEAN region, and expect them to roll over like a trained puppy.
Some senators even suggested that the Philippines link up with other South China Sea claimant nations to form a united front against the resident superpower in Southeast Asia.
“The Philippines cannot be the only one speaking out against the territory-grabbing activities of China, others must also do so,” according to Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said China would not be so dismissive of the Philippines’s posturing if other ASEAN countries, as well as allies in the United Nations, the US, UK, France, Canada, Japan and Germany, likewise indicated their common objection to the nine-dash line map, which outlines Beijing’s huge maritime claims in the SCS.
Whether the Manila-Beijing tussle will get anywhere is the $64-question because President Duterte has so far remained silent, refusing to risk getting on the bad side of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He had said previously that the Philippines is “powerless” to stop China’s illegal occupation of the West Philippine Sea, and that challenging its activities could result in a war the country would lose.