Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said provocations in the hotly disputed areas in the South China Sea are coming from the Chinese, who have illegally occupied some features within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Lorenzana was responding to China’s claims that the Philippines is doing “illegal provocations” by sending its patrol aircraft over the Spratlys and reefs occupied by Chinese forces.
“Illegal provocations? That area is within our EEZ. Their so-called historical rights over an area enclosed by their nine-line doesn’t exist except in their imaginations,” he said in a message to reporters on Sunday.
Lorenzana said Philippine aircraft and ships conducting patrol sorties are doing so within the country’s EEZ, just like Filipino fishermen going about with their lawful business.
“Our fishermen are within our EEZ and likewise our ships and planes conduct patrol sorties within our area,” he added. “They (China) are the ones who have been doing provocations by illegally occupying some features within our EEZ. Hence they have no right to claim they are enforcing their laws.”
On Thursday last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest against China over the illegal confiscation of some Filipino fishermen’s equipment at the Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag in Filipino) by the Chinese Coast Guard in May.
It slammed China’s “continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges on Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea.”
The Scarborough Shoal is a triangle-shaped coral reef situated 124 nautical miles off Zambales.
In a 2016 landmark decision, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that both Filipinos and Chinese, as well as other fishermen from other countries, have “traditional fishing rights” at the Scarborough Shoal and that China cannot restrict access to the area.
Since a standoff between some Chinese ships and the Philippine Navy in 2012, China has maintained a steady presence in the area.
Filipino fishermen were only able to operate back after Manila pursued friendlier ties with China in 2016, which paved for a temporary arrangement between the two nations. (PNA)