Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. on Wednesday said the Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest over China's recent "swarming" activity in the disputed waters.
Locsin made the confirmation on his Twitter account, where he retweeted a GMA News tweet about the Philippines' plan to protest the swarming of 113 Chinese fishing vessels around Pag-asa Island. "Diplomatic protest fired off," Locsin said.
Diplomatic protest fired off. https://t.co/7KsQqrZJFD— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) July 31, 2019
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon earlier in the day said it was the country's inter-agency task force that made the recommendation to file the protest.
The security adviser said intelligence is looking into the activity, saying the "swarming"activity could be a "dry run" for a plan to block resupply missions around the disputed territory.
Locsin did not say when the protest was filed, but a Filipino diplomat told GMA News Online that the Philippine government expressed its serious concern "both in writing and in face to face talks" with Chinese officials in Manila and in Beijing.
Manila has long expressed concern on the recurring presence of Chinese flotilla in Pag-asa Island, an area in the Spratlys in the disputed South China Sea that is also being claimed by China. The Phlippines refers to the waters in the South China Sea that falls within its exclusive economic zone as West Philippine Sea.
Early this year, more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted in the area and China's latest action of sending dozens of boats in Pag-asa this month complicates the already tense situation in the South China Sea.
Esperon said he doesn't know China's motivation for swarming the area with its vessels.
For his part, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal advocate for the Philippines' maritime rights, welcomed the filing of the protest.
"Good. Because we should keep on protesting that," he told reporters in Manila. "Otherwise, it's an implied admission that we allow them to do that and we should not allow that."
The senior magistrate said the 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines declared that there is a territorial sea around Pag-asa Island, which means Chinese fishing vessels are prohibited from entering it to loiter.
If the ships would want to pass through, he said they must do so under the innocent passage rule, or passing through "in a continuous and expeditious straight line."
"What they're doing is they're loitering, they are defying, they're saying this is not Philippine territorial sea, that 's the message. And we should protest that because when they stay there, they loiter, they're disregarding our right that that is our territorial sea," Carpio said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who decided to shelve the 2016 arbitration ruling that denigrated Beijing's massive sea claims, has been criticized for his friendly overtures to China despite its aggressive actions and efforts to drive away Filipinos from its own waters in the West Philippine Sea.
Unlike his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, Duterte has taken a non-confrontational approach on Manila's territorial disputes with China in exchange for loans and aid. —with Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/MDM/KG, GMA News