Photo by the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea

The Philippines demanded China to “promptly withdraw” its fishing vessels near the features in Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), as it asserted its claim on the Julian Felipe Reef where about 200 Chinese ships have amassed on March 7.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) stressed that “Julian Felipe Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group lies in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.”

“We reiterate that the continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” it said.

The DFA said Manila has been “assiduously protesting the illegal and lingering (swarming) presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime assets in the said areas.”

Despite this, China continued its “infringements and tolerance” that are contrary to its commitments under international law and the Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

It called on Beijing to “faithfully honor” its obligations as a State Party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as respect the “final and binding” 2016 Arbitral Award in the South China Sea, which invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim in the strategic waters.

‘Leave KIG features’

The DFA demanded China to pull out its fishing vessels and maritime assets from the vicinity of all KIG features in the West Philippine Sea and to direct its fishing vessels to desist from environmentally destructive activities.

In the past, these fishing vessels were used to harvest endangered species such as giant clams and sea turtles in the Philippine EEZ.

The DFA said it lodged a note verbale on Sunday protesting the “unauthorized and lingering” presence of Chinese ships in and around Julian Felipe Reef, bringing to 60 the total diplomatic notes filed under the Duterte administration, 45 of which were issued under the tenure of incumbent Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef as early as March 7.

On Monday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that about 183 Chinese vessels are in the same area. (PNA)

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