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Phl accuses China of maritime intrusions

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the government had expressed “serious concerns” to the People’s Republic of China (PROC) over recent intrusions of Chinese vessels, including a ship of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The DFA said that a diplomatic protest was sent to the PROC via the Chinese embassy’s charge d’affaires last Thursday.

The Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines recorded recent sightings of two Chinese vessels and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship at the vicinity of Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea last Dec. 11 and 12.

Escoda Shoal is located 123.6 nautical miles from Palawan and is within Philippine territorial waters, still under the country’s sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction.

Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario said that “these intrusions of the Chinese are clear violations of the 2002 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea as well as the provision of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The Aquino government has deliberately started calling the waters west of the country as the “West Philippine Sea” from the previous South China Sea to assert its jurisdiction over the area around the disputed Spratly Islands that is being claimed, in part or in whole, by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The Philippines had accused Chinese forces of triggering several confrontations with Filipinos in the Spratlys last year.

Three Chinese ships that the DFA reported to have intruded inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea last month, are now stationed at the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef.

“They’re still in Mischief Reef,” said Western Command (Wescom) commander, Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban.

Sabban said they have monitored the presence of the three Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Sabina Shoal last Dec. 11 saying the vessels were simply passing by the area apparently on their way to Mischief Reef.

Mischief Reef is very close to mainland Palawan and is well within the country’s EEZ. It is not even included or listed as among the islets and shoals in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The Chinese initially occupied Mischief Reef years ago purposely to serve as a fishermen’s shelter until latest military surveillance photos showed that it was already a fortified military garrison complete with satellite surviellance discs.

“Monitored natin yon and passing through nga sila. Our vessels and planes were immediately deployed there (Sabina shoal),” Sabban said.

He added that the same Chinese vessels were regularly monitored to be in Mischief Reef.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Beijing, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the official Xinhua News Agency that the situation in the South China Sea “is peaceful and stable.”

China will always opt for negotiations to peacefully resolve disputes on “some islands and the demarcation of parts of the sea,” Liu said.

Many fear the region could be Asia’s next flashpoint for conflict.

The Philippines and Vietnam separately accused Chinese vessels of repeatedly intruding into Spratlys areas under their control and sabotaging oil explorations in their regular territorial waters in the first six months of last year.

China denied the claims and reiterated its sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.

Amid the disputes, the Philippines turned to the United States, a defense-treaty ally, to strengthen its underfunded military, one of Asia’s weakest. The Philippine Navy relaunched an old US Coast Guard cutter as its biggest warship last month to guard its waters near the Spratlys.

President Aquino and other top Philippine officials plan to travel to the United States this year to seek two more ships and a squadron of F-16 jets, according to Del Rosario. 
     – With Jaime Laude, AP (Philstar News Service,


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