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DFA 'strongly denounces' critical Chinese embassy statement vs. Lorenzana

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday said it "strongly deplores" the Chinese Embassy's statement maligning Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and reminded them that they are guests of the Philippine government and must accord respect to its officials.

In a statement, the DFA said it strongly deplores the statement of the Chinese Embassy spokesperson reacting to Lorenzana’s remarks on April 3 for demanding Chinese vessels to leave the waters in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef off the West Philippine Sea.

“Moreover, the Department of Foreign Affairs strongly denounces the embassy’s attempt to impugn the Secretary of National Defense — a Cabinet Official of the Republic of the Philippines — by calling his statement ‘unprofessional,’” it said.

“Chinese Embassy officials are reminded that they are guests of the Philippine Government, and as guests must at all times observe protocol and accord respect to Philippine Government officials.”

On Sunday, Lorenzana demanded the immediate withdrawal of the remaining 44 Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, located 175 nautical miles of Bataraza, Palawan, but is being claimed by China as part of its territory. There were initially more than 200 Chinese militia vessels in the area when they were spotted by Philippine officials in March 7. 

China says the reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and part of its continental shelf under a United Nations convention, has been a traditional fishing ground and shelter for its fishermen during bad weather and is part of Chinese territory.

"I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan,” Lorenzana had said.

The DFA said China’s statement “contained blatant falsehoods such as claims of adverse weather conditions when there were none and the supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels in the area.”

Manila, backed by several nations led by the United States, filed a diplomatic protest against China last month.

The Chinese statement, the DFA said, also “attempted to promote the clearly false narrative of China’s expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.”

The DFA said it rejects China’s assertion that Julian Felipe Reef and its waters are their traditional fishing grounds.

“Tradition yields to law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing,” it said, adding that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 arbitral decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that denigrated China’s massive claim “are clearly the only norm applicable to this situation.”

The DFA said the decision handed down by the tribunal following a case filed by the Philippines, is legally-binding and “conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”

In its ruling, the tribunal said claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect.

It also said that UNCLOS “superseded any historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed therein.”

China, a signatory to the UNCLOS along with the Philippines, does not recognize the ruling and maintained indisputable claim over nearly the entire waters, dotted by clusters of islands, cays, shoals and reefs with rich fishing areas and natural oil and gas.

China and five other governments — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have been locked in long-simmering territorial rifts in the South China Sea that analysts feared as Asia’s next potential flashpoint for a major armed conflict.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs...reiterates the demand of the Secretary of National Defense that China immediately withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the area and vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef and in the Philippines’ maritime zones. For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” the DFA said.

Their continued presence in the area, the DFA said, blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction and shows disregard to international law.

China’s actions, the DFA said, demonstrate its lack of good faith in the ongoing negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between Beijing and the Association of South East Asian Nations. —KBK, GMA News