Malacañang on Tuesday said the Philippines was never in possession of Julian Felipe Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea that hit the headlines due to the presence of hundreds of Chinese ships there.
“Kasi alam mo hindi po yan kabahagi ng ating EEZ, yung Julian Felipe. Labas po yan, ganyan po kalayo yan,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
In March, over 200 Chinese vessels swarmed Julian Felipe Reef prompting a series of diplomatic protests from the Philippine government. Reports have said that majority of the vessels have left the area, but several have remained.
“We're making a big thing out of the fact, when that area was never under our possession,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.
“Ang talagang nag-aagawan sa Julian Felipe, Vietnam at China [The ones that are really in dispute over Julian Felipe Reef are Vietnam and China],” he added.
Roque, however, said the country is not dismissing its claim over the reef.
“Our claim is Julian Felipe Reef is an island and an island generates maritime territory. Pero ni hindi nga po 'yan kabahagi ng arbitration natin, napakalayo talaga niyan sa atin. Pero hindi po natin binabalewala ang claim natin,” he said.
(Julian Felipe Reef is not even included in the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration that we won. It is located too far from us. But we are not abandoning our claim.)
In March, the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) called on China to leave Julian Felipe Reef, saying such vessels endanger navigation and maritime resources within the Philippines' EEZ.
“They may be doing illicit activities at night and their lingering (swarming) presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment due to marine pollution and destruction of coral reefs. Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ,” the NTF-WPS said.
“The NTF-WPS reiterates its assertion of Philippine sovereignty, and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Island Group and West Philippine Sea and expresses deep concern over the continuing unlawful presence (swarming) of the Chinese maritime militia which did not pull out and have remained in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef and are now in other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group in the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan,” it added.
From over 200 in March, the number of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef has since significantly dwindled to a little over a dozen. --KBK, GMA News