Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday said he will wait for the recommendation of the military before filing a diplomatic protest against China after 220 of its militia vessels were sighted moored at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
"Only if the generals tell me," said Locsin on Twitter when asked if a protest will be lodged for China's provocative action seen to further inflame tensions in the South China Sea.
A part of the disputed waters that fall within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf was renamed West Philippine Sea by Manila.
"In my watch foreign policy is the fist in the iron glove of the armed forces," Locsin said. "I don't care for media. Undependable. And civilian."
On March 20, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said it received a confirmed report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, 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.
China, which claims a huge swathe of the South China Sea, has reclaimed disputed areas and transformed previously submerged features into artificial islands with multi-level buildings and runways. It has also installed surface-to-air missiles in these areas, triggering concerns from countries, such as the Philippines, US, Japan and Australia.
The Philippines in 2013 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.
Rejecting the ruling, China says its claims have historical basis and are “indisputable” despite encroaching on the territories of its smaller neighbors like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
China has also claimed and developed some features in areas within the West Philippine Sea. —KG, GMA News