The Philippines on Tuesday demanded the immediate withdrawal of dozens of Chinese vessels illegally moored within the West Philippine Sea, saying their lingering presence was a blatant infringement of the country's sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.
These vessels, it added, were conducting "environmentally destructive activities."
In a strongly-worded statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said China's infringement violated international laws and regional agreements.
"The Philippines demands that China promptly withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the vicinity and adjacent waters of relevant features in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea, and to direct its fishing vessels to desist from environmentally destructive activities," the DFA said.
From 220, around 183 Chinese militia vessels remain off Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea. They were initially spotted on March 7.
Manila lodged a diplomatic protest against China on March 21, a move backed by the United States.
The Philippines, the DFA said, "has been assiduously protesting the illegal and lingering (swarming) presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime assets in the said areas."
Julian Felipe Reef, called Niu’e Jiao by China, 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.
China, which denied the presence of militia vessels in the area, asserted the reef was part of Chinese territory. It also said the reef was traditionally used as shelter by its fishing vessels during inclement weather.
Despite continued protests, the DFA said China continued its "infringements and tolerance" of such activities that were contrary to its commitments under international law and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
"We reiterate that the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction," the DFA said.
"The Philippines calls on China to faithfully honor its obligations as a State Party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to respect and abide by the final and binding 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration."
In the case brought by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated Beijing's massive claim to the South China Sea, which violated Manila's economic and sovereign rights under the UNCLOS. China refused to accept the ruling.
China and five other governments - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan – are embroiled in years-long disputes over the South China Sea, particularly in its southern part, called the Spratlys. — DVM, GMA News