Rare rebuke

April 10, 2019
Pag-asa island

THE protracted presence of foreign ships in the country’s exclusive waters and near Philippine-occupied islands like Pag-asa would be an “assault” on the nation’s sovereignty, Malacanang said yesterday in a rare rebuke of Beijing.

“While we remain friendly with respect to trade relations, we will always assert sovereignty when it is being impaired or assaulted,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.

“If they continue to be present in our territory then it is an assault to our sovereignty,” he added.

Chinese ships have been seen loitering in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Only last month, the military reported espying over 600 Chinese vessels circling Pag-asa Island (called Thitu Island by China) since January.

Chinese vessels have also been spotted near Kota Island and Panatag Island late last month.

Satellite images taken in 2018 and released earlier this year meanwhile showed that Chinese fishing vessels account for the largest number of ships operating in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.

Panelo said the Chinese have “no business of being there” and should leave the area.

“I mean they cannot be staying there,” he said.

China’s activities in the South China Sea particularly militarization of islets and sandbars, which Beijing has denied, have worried Philippine military authorities.

China insists on its nine-dash-nine ruling which practically encroaches on territory claimed by the Philippines and has vehemently rejected a 2016 ruling by a UN-backed tribunal against its claim over the disputed waters.

President Rodrigo Duterte however is careful not to antagonize Beijing over the territorial issue preferring to strengthen economic ties between the Philippines and its giant neighbor.

‘China took it’

The West Philippine Sea “is ours” and that China”took it,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday in reply to a Twitter follower’s query Department of Foreign Affair’s stand on China’s strong presence in the waterway.

“The stand is that it is ours. And they took it. World’s highest court ruled that. Period,” said the official.

The problem however is what the Philippines could do about the situation. “Now the question is how to take it back,” Locsin said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ruled out antagonizing China pointing out the fact that Manila stands no chance in an armed confrontation against  its more powerful Asian neighbor.

The Philippines has a decades old Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States but even with an assurance from its long-time ally of protection during an outside invasion, Manila is uncertain if the promise would be fulfilled in an actual situation.

Particularly unclear is the treaty’s bearing on the Philippines’ sea dispute with China.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has opined that the US sees the treaty covering only “metropolitan” Philippines and excludes the areas it occupies in the South China Sea. .