Some 100 Chinese vessels had returned to Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

In a statement, the agency said the swarming took place two months ago, prompting officials to lodge another diplomatic protest on April 4, barely a year after its initial note verbale on March 21, 2021.

Julian Felipe Reef is a low tide elevation within the territorial sea of relevant high tide features in the Kalayaan Islands Group, including Chigua Reef, over which the Philippines has sovereignty, the DFA said.

“The lingering unauthorized presence of Chinese fishing and maritime vessels is not only illegal but is also a source of instability in the region,” it said.

“The persistent swarming of Chinese vessels is contrary to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Award,” it said.

The vessels’ return is a violation of China’s commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties, which calls for the exercise of self-restraint in the South China Sea, according to the DFA.

“The Philippines regrets this Chinese violation of international law days before the successful April 8, 2022 telesummit between President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping where the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to solve issues of mutual concern through peaceful dialogue and exercise restraint in any and all endeavors relating to the South China Sea,” the DFA said.

The DFA reiterated its earlier call on Beijing to comply with its obligations under international law, cease and desist from displaying illegal and irresponsible behavior, and immediately withdraw all of its vessels from Philippine maritime zones. (PNA)