By ROGER M. BALANZA
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday told China to pull out its vessels encroaching into the West Philippine Sea as China said the Philippines should cease from conducting maritime patrols in an area it claims as part of its territory.
Lorenzana shot down China’s latest claim of sovereignty over islands and features in the WPS, saying that it is the Chinese who are encroaching on Philippine waters.
China has calel for a stop to Philippine maritime exercises within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the WPS.
“They are the intruders,” the defense chief told reporters. “They have no authority or legal basis to prevent us from conducting these exercises within the WPS. That’s ours,”
The Philippines has two international documents proving that the area belongs to the country, while “their claims according to their so-called historical rights have no basis,” said Lorenzana.
Lorenzana enumerated the documents as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory, and the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) award that contradicted China’s claim.
“It is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave,” Lorenzana said in reaction to China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s pronouncements on Monday.
“China enjoys sovereignty over Nansha (Spratly) Islands including Zhongye (Thitu) Island and Zhongsha Islands including Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) and their adjacent waters, and exercises jurisdiction in relevant waters,” the Chinese official said at a press conference. “We urge the relevant side to respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.”
But Lorenzana disputed the Chinese spokesman.
“The UNCLOS gave us sovereign rights to exploit the natural resources of an area measured 200 nautical miles from our mainland,” he said. “The arbitral award has categorically stated that the Chinese claim bounded by their so-called nine-dash line according their ‘historical right’ has no basis in fact.”
The Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) stepped up patrols and presence in the West Philippine Sea after hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted in March moored in the WPS.
The Philippine government has since filed several diplomatic protests, which China disregarded, questioning the continued presence of Chinese maritime militia and Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in Julian Felipe Reef and other islands and features in the area.