Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday said he would continue speaking on the West Philippine Sea, even though he was dressed down by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and several senators for saying that the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef was not inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Roque’s remarks Wednesday contradicted official statements by the Foreign Affairs and Defense departments, which urged China to withdraw some 200 ships intruding on the Philippine EEZ.
In angry tweets, Locsin said Roque should drop the subject and let him speak exclusively on the issue.
But Roque said he and Locsin were “fine,” and that they had reached an agreement that he would continue to speak on international law.
Senators pounced on Roque’s remarks, with Senator Francis Pangilinan asking if he was on China’s payroll.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the executive department should “follow a script written by the DFA.”
Roque brushed aside these remarks, saying the senators were just playing politics.
He also urged Congress to amend Presidential Decree 1596 to strengthen the Philippines’ claim over the Kalayaan Island Group.
On Wednesday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the country’s maritime patrol on May 9 spotted around 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels in various features of the municipality of Kalayaan.
Maritime patrols conducted on May 9 showed “bigger groupings” of Chinese vessels were spotted in Chinese-built artificial islands, while some were observed near islands occupied by the Philippines, the NTF-WPS said.
Two CMM and two Houbei-class missile warships were also found inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef), one CMM at Lawak (Nanshan Island), 11 CMMs at about 29 nautical miles southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank, and one CMM at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
The NTF-WPS said one Chinese Coast Guard vessel was also seen at the shoal during an earlier patrol on May 7.
Reacting to these reports, Roque said the NTF-WPS should put into proper context the exact locations of the Chinese vessels because not all of them were in areas claimed by the Philippines.
He said the Philippines should only be concerned over its claimed areas in WPS that are being occupied by China.
“So let’s not stress ourselves over issues concerning the entire West Philippine Sea because we do not claim the entire West Philippine or South China Sea,” Roque said in Filipino.
On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled against China’s claimed historic rights over the entire WPS, but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
Other countries with competing claims in the highly-contested WPS are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Roque also said that China’s building of artificial islands in areas within the Philippines’ EEZ should not be a cause for concern.
Citing the international law, Roque said the use of violence to acquire territories in the disputed territories sea would “never ripen into title.”
Locsin on Thursday said the country would file yet another diplomatic protest against China over the swarming of 287 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
But China on Wednesday claimed it had “a smooth channel” to the Philippines and that the two sides were maintaining close communication amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the two countries are "committed to properly handling the relevant issue through dialogue and consultation."
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday urged Filipinos to unite and make a strong stand on the issue on the West Philippine Sea.
Lacson warned that if the people and their top leaders continue to bicker on the issue, Filipinos may wake up one day to find garrisons in Sabina Shoal.
"We may wake up one day to see Chinese garrisons in our EEZ. They are already there, in our territory," he said.
He said bickering among Filipinos would benefit only the Chinese government.
"To them, so long as we are busy fighting among ourselves, they will do what they are doing," he said.
Lacson said other countries are willing to help the Philippines maintain a balance of power in the WPS because they have their own national interests to pursue.