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DFA protests anew China's continued deployment and presence in West Philippine Sea


The Philippines has protested anew China's continued presence and deployment of vessels in Philippine waters, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.

Manila's protest filed on Friday came a week after both sides held an online dialogue aimed at managing and addressing their maritime disputes.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest yesterday against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels in the vicinity of Pag-asa islands, demanding that China withdraw these vessels," a DFA statement said.

The DFA told China in its diplomatic note that "Pag-asa Islands is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction."

Filipino forces occupy 10 islands and reefs in the disputed Spratly islands off the South China Sea — the biggest being Pag-asa Island, where troops and civilian villagers have lived for many years. The inhabitants reside in low-slung houses often battered by storms during the rainy season.

Beijing maintains historic rights over nearly the entire waters, which is dotted by clusters of islands, cays, shoals and reefs with rich fishing areas and natural oil and gas despite a 2016 international tribunal ruling in The Hague, Netherlands that invalidated its claim. 

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 delivered a sweeping victory to the Philippines on the case it filed against China in 2013 and declared China's claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal.

In last week's dialogue, Philippine and Chinese officials failed to reach an agreement to resolve tensions in the West Philippine Sea, including in Whitsun Reef, as China continues to defy Manila's demand for it to remove all its maritime militia and fishing vessels in the area.

A part of the South China Sea that falls within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf under a United Nations convention was renamed West Philippine Sea by Manila to assert ownership.

In last week's meeting, the Philippines and China, according to a DFA statement, "had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea."

"There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area. Both sides acknowledged the importance of addressing differences in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality to pave the way for practical cooperation and initiatives," the DFA said.

The Philippine side told China to respect and adhere to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its authoritative interpretation and application of the final and binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award. 

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. —KG, GMA News

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