The Philippines has protested China’s fishing ban in the South China Sea, saying the unilateral policy infringes on the country’s sovereignty over its waters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Manila does not recognize China’s fishing moratorium from May 1 to August 16 this year, as it covers waters in areas where the Philippines exercises” sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
“China’s annual fishing moratorium extends far beyond China’s legitimate maritime entitlements under UNCLOS and is without basis under international law. China cannot legally impose nor legally enforce such a moratorium in the West Philippines Sea,” a DFA statement said.
China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said the ban covers “waters north of 12 degrees north latitude in the South China Sea,” areas that include Philippine waters.
In another development, a group of former police and military officers said President Rodrigo Duterte should withdraw his statements on the West Philippine Sea issue that do not conform with the national interest.
Retired Lieutenant General Edilberto Adan, head of the Advocates for National Interest, said the officers’ group called on the President to “have a firm stand” in defending Philippine sovereignty in its territorial waters.
“We would like to appeal to the President, together with the many other groups, various alumni groups requesting the President to retract some of his statements which do not conform with our national interest,” Adan said in an ANC interview.
Adan also disagreed with Duterte that going to war with China was the “only option” to assert the Philippines’ claims in the disputed waters.
“And what we’re saying is war is not the only option, there are other instruments of national power that can be used,” he said.
Earlier, a group of graduates of San Beda College, where Duterte also studied, urged the President to make a clear stand on China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
They also said the 76-year-old President must retract his defeatist statements on continued illegal activities of China within the country’s territorial waters.
Duterte’s remarks can also be taken as an admission against Philippine interest, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday.
“In simple terms, it can be construed as surrendering Philippine territories,” he said in a live briefing of the Rotary Club of Makati.
Despite this, Del Rosario said the President was not clueless about the issues on the disputed waters.
“On the contrary, we think that he is deliberate, and this makes it more dangerous because he clearly stands with China,” he said.
However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Tuesday echoed the President’s position that the country’s arbitral victory invalidating China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea is “meaningless for now” because it cannot be enforced to regain possession.
Locsin said Duterte is also correct in insisting not to raise the award before the United Nations (UN) because “China has the votes.”
“Duterte is completely correct. It is meaningless for now—for the purpose of retaking possession of what China took from us because we let it... And he is right not to take it to the UN where China has the votes, as the proud authors of the Arbitral Award keep insisting for purposes of the coming election campaign because they will be in the news,” Locsin posted on Twitter.
Locsin said the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will “just turn our loss of possession into Chinese right.”
Nonetheless, Locsin expressed satisfaction with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s arbitral ruling which rejected China’s historic claim in the South China Sea and upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Also, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile questioned why the Meanwhile, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV called Enrile the “inventor of fake news” after the former Senate president said
Trillanes bypassed the country’s envoy to China during the 2012 backchannel negotiations over the Scarborough Shoal standoff.
“This person is really notorious. If there was a person that invented fake news, it’s him. He did not do anything good for the Philippines in his long life,” Trillanes said in Filipino, referring to Enrile.
The former senator said he was assigned to hold the backchannel talks with China by President Benigno Aquino III, whose first choice was then Budget Secretary Butch Abad, who begged off because it was budget season.
He said he was able to conduct the backchannel talks by simply contacting the Chinese embassy in Manila.
Trillanes denied he bypassed Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, as she had yet to arrive in Beijing during the backdoor negotiations.
He said the ambassador was not present in the backchannel talks from May to July 2012 and that he had to brief Brady on the matter when she arrived.
In the interview, Trillanes urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to release the Brady notes instead of relying on Enrile’s version of events.
The Palace maintained that there was no tension between Manila and Beijing, despite the incursions by Chinese ships and the diplomatic protests that the Philippines has filed during a media briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the tension is only in the minds of critics of the administration, particularly the opposition.
“There is problem but no tension,” he added. Critics has slammed President Duterte for downplaying the country’s legal victory over China before the UN-backed Permanent Court on Arbitration.
Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, a vocal critic, has even started a signature drive calling on Duterte to retract his statements.
Duterte found an ally in Enrile, who argued that the Philippines would “lose more” if it continued to antagonize China.
For weeks now, the Philippines has been filing a series of diplomatic protests over the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
A maritime patrol conducted in late April spotted 287 Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, according to a government task force.
Despite the non-confrontational approach, Roque said the Duterte administration is committed to protecting the country’s territorial waters.
“We did not lose territory under the administration of President Duterte. That happened under a different administration,” Roque added.
There are no structures in the Scarborough Shoal, but China is effectively in control of it, having established the presence of its Coast Guard there since 2012.
Roque said only he and Locsin have been authorized by Duterte to speak on the West Philippine Sea issue.
Asked if this would mean a gag order on the National Task Force West Philippine Sea, which has been reporting on the number of Chinese vessels in disputed territories, Roque said diplomatic communications are covered by executive privilege.
“These reports by the Task Force will be used by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) in evaluating whether they will file a diplomatic protest which are relevant diplomatic communications,” he said.
“Diplomatic communications are covered by executive privilege,” Roque added.
Roque said the President’s position on the West Philippine Sea will not waver even if he regards China as a close friend, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
“Our principal position and stand on the West Philippine Sea remains. I have said it before and I will say it again. Our agencies have been directed to do what they must and should to protect and defend our nation’s interests,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
Roque said Duterte has directed Philippine vessels to continue to patrol relevant areas and firmly assert the country’s territorial claims.
“The Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be where they need to be,” Roque said.
He said the Department of Foreign Affairs, as lead agency, will be at the forefront in advancing the country’s interests while harnessing time-honored principles of international law.
Roque also noted that Duterte’s position that no country can ignore the Philippines’ 2016 arbitral victory against China still stands.
He defended Duterte’s decision to resolve the maritime row through “peaceful” means as a responsible member of the international community.
“Diplomacy, therefore, will play an ever-important part,” he added. Roque also emphasized their preference for the Philippines to hold bilateral talks with China to end the maritime conflict.
In other developments:
* Senate President Vicente Sotto III called on Malacañang to consider economic options as an alternative response to the continuing conflict between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea. Sotto suggested government leaders look at the feasibility of jumpstarting oil exploration studies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to underscore the country’s arbitral victory at the United Nations and affirm our resolute claim over the contested area.
* Senator Francis Pangilinan said being friendly and diplomatic was different from subservience, especially if Filipino jobs and food sources are on the line. “China is the aggressor here… China is occupying key areas in our exclusive economic zone. We are talking about 300,000 or 500,000 square kilometers that are now being threatened,” Pangilinan said.
* Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the country will have to work with its allies -- the US and others who share similar interest and values of a rule-based order. He noted that it is in the interest of most nations to uphold the Philippines’ arbitral victory.