Manila urged to execute ‘actionable’ steps against Chinese sea incursions

Manila urged to execute ‘actionable’ steps against Chinese sea incursions

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE GOVERNMENT of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should go beyond filling diplomatic protests against Chinese incursions in the South China Sea, a Philippine senator said on Tuesday, as Chinese militia ships swarmed around Whitsun Reef.

“We have to execute actionable, on-the-ground steps to prevent the Chinese from any reclamation and base-building activities in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, which I believe the National Task Force for the West Philippines Sea will do,” Senator Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement.

She noted that no matter how many times the Philippines and the international community condemn China’s “illegal activities,” it simply does not listen.

“Niu’e Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Qundao,” the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a Viber message, using the Chinese name for Whitsun. “Relevant waters of the South China Sea, including Niu’e Jiao and its adjacent waters, have always been important operating areas and shelters for Chinese fishing boats.”

“It is justified and lawful for Chinese fishing boats to operate or shelter from wind in the area, and the Philippines is in no position to make irresponsible remarks,” it added.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Sunday reported about 135 Chinese militia vessels swarming around Whitsun Reef, which is 175 nautical miles west of Palawan province.

The reef is considered a low tide elevation within the territorial sea of relevant high tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group, including Chigua Reef, over which the Philippines asserts sovereignty.

Last month, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China and summoned its envoy in Manila after its ships collided with Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal.

From July 2022 to Nov. 28, the Philippines filed 129 diplomatic protests against China, 62 of which were filed this year, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

National Security Adviser and National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea adviser Eduardo M.  Año earlier ordered the deployment of Philippine Coast Guard vessels at the area to safeguard maritime security and Philippine sovereign rights.

China’s military on Monday said a US Navy ship had illegally entered waters adjacent to Second Thomas Shoal.

“The US seriously undermined regional peace and stability,” a spokesperson for China’s Southern Theater of Operations said in a statement, accusing the US of violating Chinese sovereignty.

China is in dispute with several of its neighbors over its extensive claims of territorial waters in the South China Sea.

The US Navy said USS Gabrielle Giffords, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, was conducting routine operations in international waters in the South China Sea, consistent with international law.

The National Security Council last week said it would protect a convoy lead by Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel’s Akbayan Party, which will go to various Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea on Dec. 10.

The group originally planned to hold a convoy to BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era vessel that the Philippines deliberately grounded at Second Thomas, locally called Ayungin, in 1999 to serve as an outpost for Filipino troops.

The NSC initially opposed the idea, saying it could escalate tensions with China.

China has been blocking Philippine resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre. Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened after the Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannons to block Manila’s attempt to deliver food and other supplies to BRP Sierra Madre.

China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety based on a 1940s map, which a United Nations-backed tribunal said in 2016 is illegal.

“Everyday, China has a plan to take over our territory,” Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in Filipino. “It is clear that they are starting trouble, not us.”