MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday blasted the statement of the Chinese Embassy in Manila against Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on the presence of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef.
In a statement, the DFA said it “strongly deplores” the remarks of the Chinese Embassy spokesperson reacting to Lorenzana’s statement issued on April 3 calling on Chinese vessels to leave the waters in the area and vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef.
“[T]he Department of Foreign Affairs denounces the Embassy’s attempt to impugn the Secretary of National Defense – a Cabinet Official of the Republic of the Philippines – by calling his statement ‘unprofessional,’” the department said.
“Chinese Embassy officials are reminded that they are guests of the Philippine government, and as guests must at all times observe protocol and accord respect to Philippine government officials,” it added.
Lorenzana earlier demanded the immediate withdrawal of the remaining Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef, telling the ships to sail away and for the Chinese to “leave our sovereign territories and abide by the international law.”
“I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. The vessels should be on their way out,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Embassy last Saturday said that China hopes authorities “avoid any unprofessional remarks” over the presence of Chinese vessels in the Philippine Sea.
Chinese officials earlier denied that the vessels were maritime militia and that these are only seeking temporary shelter due to rough sea conditions. They also said that the vessels are in Chinese territory, calling the reef as Niu’e Jiao.
The DFA said the Chinese Embassy’s statement “contained blatant falsehoods such as claims of adverse weather conditions when there were none and the supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels in the area. “
“The statement also attempted to promote the clearly false narrative of China’s expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” the DFA said.
Julian Felipe Reef is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and lies in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of the Philippines. It is located 175 nautical miles west of Batarza town in Palawan and 638,229 nautical miles from Hainan Island, it added.
The DFA also rejected China’s assertion that Julian Felipe Reef and its waters are their traditional fishing grounds.
“Tradition yields to the law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing,” the department said.
“The United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) – to which both the Republic of the Philippines and China are parties – and the final and binding July 12, 2016 award in the South China Sea Arbitration are clearly the only norm applicable to this situation,” it added.
The foreign affairs department emphasized that the July 12, 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration “conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”
“The Tribunal ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect,” it said.
“It further ruled that UNCLOS ‘superseded any historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed therein,’” it added.
The DFA reiterated Lorenzana’s call for China to immediately withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the area and vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef and in the Philippines’ maritime zones.
“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” it warned.
The lingering presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, the DFA said, blatantly infringed upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdictions.
“These are contrary to China’s commitments under international law and the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and demonstrate lack of good faith in the ongoing negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between ASEAN and China,” it added.