DFA vows daily diplomatic protests till China boats leave PH reef

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday vowed to file daily diplomatic protests against China unless all Chinese vessels leave the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

“Firing another diplomatic protest. Every day ‘til the last one’s gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. posted on Twitter.

The DFA filed a diplomatic protest in March demanding the immediate pullout of the 220 Chinese militia vessels at Julian Felipe Reef.

The number of Chinese ships in the area dwindled to 44 from the more than 200 vessels when it was initially sighted moored off the reef in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the DFA issued separate strongly worded statements against China demanding the pullout of the remaining 44 ships, believed to be manned by Chinese militia, from the reef.

Malacañang earlier declared that it will assert the Philippines’ sovereignty over the Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone, but it will not use force against China in asserting its maritime territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the government to look into China’s construction of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

A year after filing a resolution questioning Chinese construction and dredging in areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Hontiveros said China continued to impinge on the Philippines’ sovereignty.

“Who betrayed the Filipinos? Are there people who are selling our territories? We need to find out,” the senator said Filipino.

“We need to create measures to prevent acts inimical to our national security, including identifying and penalizing Filipinos colluding or collaborating with foreign powers to militarize the WPS,” she said.

Hontiveros said China’s speed in constructing man-made islets in the disputed waterway is both angering and concerning.

“I am positive that the more we could look into this issue, the more that we would be able to know how to ultimately oblige China to pay for her shameless adventurism,” she said.

“We need to dismantle these structures that occupy the territories we claim, and while doing so, we must ensure that Filipinos, who may have been in cahoots with the Chinese government in building these structures, will pay for their treachery,” she said.

Hontiveros did not mention specific politicians or businessmen, but last year, she slammed the government for dealing with Chinese companies that took part in the illegal reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque at the time said President Rodrigo Duterte chose to retain the deals because the Philippines “needs investors from China.”

Before being elected as president in 2016, Duterte promised to ride a jet ski to one of the China-built artificial islands to assert the country’s claim in the area.

But after ascending to power, he forged closer ties with China in exchange for loans and investments for his administration’s massive infrastructure push. He also shelved a 2016 arbitral court ruling that invalidated China’s economic claims in the West Philippine Sea.

A senior legislator on Wednesday urged the United States to conduct more frequent freedom of navigation (FON) operations or patrols in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez made the appeal in reaction to a report of the US Navy that one of its carrier strike groups entered the South China Sea last April 4 amid strong protests from the Philippines on the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in Juan Felipe Reef, which is inside the Philippine 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Based on the report, Rodriguez said the April 4 passage was the second by the US Navy this year.

“Two FON patrols in more than three months. They should criss-cross that area more often to challenge China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, including international waters and a large part of the Philippine EEZ,” Rodriguez said.

He said conducting more FON operations “is walking the talk on the part of our defense treaty ally, the US.”

“They should support their statements of support for the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute with actual actions on the ground,” he added.

The House leader said that more South China Sea crossings could deter further Chinese incursions in the Philippine EEZ and threats to other US allies in the region.

“That would also show the readiness of the United States to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of conflict as provided under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries,” he added. 

Rodriguez also called for stronger and more explicit statements on the West Philippine Sea issue on the part of the US.

“Professions of support for Manila in very general language no longer suffice and are just being ignored by the party to which they are directed. There has to be a more direct statement or a warning that the other party will understand,” he said.

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