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PH calls on China to remove illegal structures, cease reclamations in WPS

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday called on China to remove illegal structures, cease reclamations and be accountable for environmental damage in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The DFA said in a statement that regular resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal located within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are legitimate activities, and it will not give prior notification to China.

The Philippines was responding to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson regarding the Philippines' recent resupply mission.

"We are being asked to give prior notification each time we conduct a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. We will not do so. The resupply missions are legitimate activities within our EEZ, in accordance with international law," said DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza.

“Hindi isla kundi low-tide elevation ang Ayungin. Malayo ito sa mainland China,” she added.

(Ayungin is not an island but a low-tide elevation. It's far from China.)

The regular resupply missions support the Philippines' troops stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, an intentionally grounded, dilapidated warship in Ayungin Shoal, which is internationally called Second Thomas Shoal and is known as Renai Reef in China.

According to Daza, the BRP Sierra Madre is a commissioned Philippine naval vessel permanently stationed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a constant Philippine government presence in response to China's illegal occupation in 1995 of Panganiban Reef, also known as Mischief Reef. 

China's embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The statement was issued days after China Coast Guard (CCG) fired water cannon at a Philippine boat carrying provisions to the Filipino troops in BRP Sierra Madre. 

Daza maintained that Ayungin Shoal is in the Philippines' EEZ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is considered the constitution of the seas.

"The resupply mission to and the upkeep of the BRP Sierra Madre are legitimate Philippine Government activities in our EEZ, and in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS. It is difficult to imagine how these activities could be deemed threatening to China," she said. 

“We call on China to remove all these illegal structures, seize reclamations in South China Sea, and be accountable for the damages caused by these illegal activities. The Philippines has not entered into any agreement, abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdictions over its EEZ and continental shelf, including in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal,” she added.

The Philippine government, through its embassy in Beijing, has demarched the Chinese foreign ministry and protested the latest water cannon incident, which took place on November 11. 

CCG spokesperson Gan Yu has defended their actions, saying the Philippine vessels had "trespassed" into the waters near Ayungin Shoal "without the permission of Chinese government."

Yu claimed the Philippines' act infringes upon China's territorial sovereignty, violates the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and breaks its own promise.

But according to Daza, UNCLOS has superseded any "historic rights" by China, as stated by the 2016 Arbitral Award on the case filed by the Philippines against China.

"In accordance with UNCLOS and the final and binding 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration, Ayungin Shoal is 'within the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines,' over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction," Daza said.

"China cannot, therefore, lawfully exercise sovereignty over it."

In their meeting in Jakarta on Wednesday, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin III, denounced  "denounced the recent harassment by vessels from the People's Republic of China (PRC) towards Philippine Coast Guard and resupply vessels conducting lawful resupply operations around Second Thomas Shoal." —with Jiselle Anne C. Casucian, GMA Integrated News/KBK/BM, GMA Integrated News