The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was standing by its statements on the country's sovereign rights over the Julian Felipe Reef hours after presidential spokesman Secretary Harry Roque said the feature was beyond the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Roque said the reef, which was recently surrounded by Chinese militia vessels, was too far from the Philippines and was never in the country's possession.
In a statement the DFA issued weeks before on the Julia Felipe Reef controversy, the department said the reef was part of the Kalayaan islands group and lies within the EEZ provided under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.
Chinese vessels had stayed in waters off the Julian Felipe Reef, something that Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials protested.
“At the moment, the DFA statements on the JFR issue remain unchanged," a DFA official told reporters, according to GMA News' JP Soriano on Twitter.
The foreign affairs department had lodged daily diplomatic protests against China, asking the Asian country to withdraw hundreds of its ships staying at Julian Felipe Reef, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
In a diplomatic note on April 21, DFA said that the Chinese vessels scattered in the West Philippine Sea "blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction."
Earlier, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed statements that Philippines was in possession of the reef, adding that Vietnam and China are the ones in a territorial dispute over it.
“We're making a big thing out of the fact, when that area was never under our possession,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.
But Roque also said the Philippines is not waiving its claim at the Reef, which is located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza town in Palawan and 638.229 nautical miles from Hainan Island. — BM/NB, GMA News