By Sara D. Fabunan, Florante Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay
A MONTH after it protested China’s action in Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal), the Philippines again issued a protest against China’s latest provocation which it described as a “clear and urgent threat” on Philippine sovereignty.
The Foreign Affairs Department on Tuesday summoned Chinese Charge d’ Affaires Sun Xiangyang after confirming reports that Chinese vessels blocked two Philippine ships from entering the Ayungin Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), which lies within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“China’s actions constitute a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” the department said in a statement.
In its note verbale, the Philippines also urged China to ‘desist from any further interference’ on activities being undertaken in the area.
“We urge China to desist from any further interference with the efforts of the Philippines to undertake rotation and resupply operations at the Ayungin Shoal,” the note said.
This developed as a military source said that the ships that the Chinese vessels blocked while on their way to the shoal were actually a Philippine Navy ship and a private vessel.
“They (ships) were supposed to bring supplies to our detachment there manned by our Marines,” the source said.
In Camp Aguinaldo, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista both deferred from commenting on the issue, saying that only the DFA has the authority to come out with an official statement on the incident.
“The Chinese Coast Guard ships blocked our two vessels which were en route to Ayungin to re-provision. The full report is being finalized and will be submitted to the DFA,” Peter Paul Galvez, Gazmin’s spokesman, said.
The DFA maintained that Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and is therefore entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other States.
Ayungin, which is located within the KIG, is one of seven reefs and two islets which make up the municipality located at the heart of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
KIG is governed by a local government unit under Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon, whose municipal office is located at the Pag-asa Island.
Pag-asa has a population of 500, excluding the members of the military, the police and the Coast Guard deployed to provide security to the island.
This is the second note verbale filed by the department against the Chinese Embassy following a similar note it filed barely a month ago protesting the incident where Chinese vessels fired water cannon against Filipino fishermen fishing at the Panatag Shoal in Zambales.
The Chinese Embassy, however, rejected the protest, saying that the Panatag Shoal is part of its territorial waters based on its nine-dash line.
It was in Panatag when the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China started two years ago, when local authorities caught Chinese fishermen poaching endangered maritime species inside the shoal.