PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said the Philippines will file a protest against China over reports that the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) drove away Filipino fishermen off the Ayungin Shoal.
Marcos made the remark after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) bared that it is investigating an incident involving a CCG vessel that allegedly shooed away a Filipino fishing boat earlier this month.
The incident happened just weeks after Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a “compromise” during the former’s trip to Beijing from Jan. 3 to 5, 2023.
During the President’s visit, the two countries signed an agreement establishing a joint direct communication mechanism.
“We have immediately used that mechanism that I talked about na sinabi (that says) we can even immediately contact the Chinese government and hopefully our counterparts on the other side can bring it to President Xi’s attention, this problem, and we have done that,” Marcos told reporters in Malacañang.
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“But it does not preclude us from continuing to make protests and continuing to send note verbale concerning this,” he said.
The President added that he hopes that the Philippines and China would soon come up with an arrangement that will allow Filipinos to fish in the West Philippine Sea.
“We haven’t come to that compromise yet. And the timing of what we refer to as a shadowing, it’s what they do is they shadow our fishing boats. So that incident happened right after I had returned from China,” Marcos said.
“I just hope we can come to some kind of arrangement because I cannot see the utility for the Chinese of doing that. These fishing boats are not armed. They don’t pose a threat to anyone. So I think that is something that we can achieve in the near term,” he added.
The reports indicated that Chinese Coast Guard vessel 5204 and a speed boat drove the Filipino fishermen away from the Ayungin Shoal, which is some 100 nautical miles off Palawan.
The shoal is also near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea reportedly occupied by China.
With this latest incident, Marcos said, “the actions that are needed are really from the Chinese side. And that is because we do not send [Philippine] Coast Guard boats into what we consider their waters or international waters. They [PCG vessels] stay within Philippine waters.”
“Let me clarify what we talked about with President Xi. It was very simple. I said we have to raise the level of discourse between the Philippines and China,” he added.
“If President Xi puts out an order that we will not do that anymore, we will do something else, then I think it will be, I think the chain of command is fairly solid,” Marcos said.
The Philippines and China have been in a long-standing maritime dispute as Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, a portion of which has been renamed the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines scored a victory against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands in 2016.
The arbitration court declared Beijing’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal.
China has refused to acknowledge the ruling and continues to call nearly the entire South China Sea as its own.
The Philippines is “entitled” to exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Ayungin Shoal without any intervention from another country, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.
“The Ayungin Shoal is part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines,” DFA spokesman Ma. Teresita Daza said.
Filipino fishermen, she added, “are free to exercise their rights and take whatever they are due” under Philippine and international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and the “final and binding 2016 arbitral award.”
“Furthermore, the Philippines has established a permanent presence on the Ayungin Shoal in 1995 with the actively commissioned Philippine naval vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre,” Daza pointed out.
The Philippine military ran the BRP Sierra Madre aground on the shoal, 196 kilometers from Palawan, in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef.
A commissioned Philippine Naval vessel, the ship has hosted a small contingent of military personnel to assert Manila’s claim to disputed waters.
“The DFA awaits official reports from the military and law enforcement agencies on the CCG’s actions ‘to force Filipino fishermen in the Ayungin Shoal to leave the area,'” Daza said.
The reports will serve as a basis for diplomatic action on the incident, the DFA spokesman added.
The DFA, she said, “vigilantly monitors” any developments in the West Philippine Sea, especially following discussions between Marcos and Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to China.