Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Sunday night said the country has filed a diplomatic protest against China after 220 of its militia vessels were sighted moored at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.
“Diplomatic protest fired off tonight; can’t wait for first light,” Locsin said on Twitter.
Earlier in the day, Locsin said he would wait for the recommendation of the military before filing a diplomatic protest.
On Saturday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said it received a confirmed report from the Philippine Coast Guard that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by the Chinese maritime militia, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) on March 7, 2021.
The reef is a large boomerang shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
It is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf, over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas.
"Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time," the Task Force said in a statement.
"The NTF-WPS notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation," it added.
Reuters reported that China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday, and the news organization's calls to the Chinese embassy in Manila seeking comment went unanswered.
In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s legal basis for its expansive claim before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, and won the case in a landmark award in 2016 after the tribunal invalidated Beijing’s assertions.
China rejected the ruling, saying its claims have historical basis and are “indisputable.” — BM, GMA News