MANILA fired its longest and strongest rebuttal ever to Beijing since 2016, demanding that the Asian military superpower get out of the West Philippine Sea and be accountable for the environmental destruction it caused in building artificial islands.
“We call on China to remove all these illegal structures, cease reclamations in the South China Sea, and be accountable for the damages caused by these illegal activities,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
The DFA statement heightened the renewed tension between the two countries, as the Philippines continues to insist on sending food and other supplies to soldiers in Ayungin Shoal west of Palawan.
The DFA was reacting to the comments made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on November 10.
Wang said the three Philippine Coast Guard ships and two cargo vessels commissioned by the Armed Forces “intruded” into the waters near Ren’ai Jiao, the Chinese name for Ayungin Shoal, and “gravely violated China’s sovereignty.”
The DFA said China has no right to claim sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal. It cited the 2016 United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal ruling that Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation that cannot generate its own territorial sea.
“The law is clear: Ayungin Shoal,” the DFA said, “is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction. China cannot, therefore, lawfully, exercise sovereignty over it.”
The DFA reminded China that the 2016 Arbitral Award “superseded any historic rights” such as the Chinese map showing nine dashes semi-encircling the South China Sea.
“China cannot claim entitlements in areas of the ‘nine-dashed line,’ now ‘ten-dashed line,’ that exceed Unclos limits,” it added.
Thus, the “resupply missions and the upkeep” of the Philippine Navy of the Philippine World War II ship BRP Sierra Madre that it grounded on Ayungin Shoal are “legitimate” activities that it legally can do in the EEZ.
“It is difficult to imagine how these activities could be deemed threatening to China,” the DFA said.
Since the Philippines has not entered into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ and continental shelf, the DFA said they cannot give prior notification to China everytime it conducts resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal.
“We will not do so (give prior notification). The resupply missions are legitimate activities within our EEZ, in accordance with international law,” it said.
China’s ‘promise’ on Panganiban Reef
The DFA also recalled that China has “promised” that the stilts it erected in 1995 was only and would only remain as “fisherman’s shelter.”
“The reef is now a militarized artificial island,” the DFA said. “Let us not forget that.”
Aside from the Panganiban Reef, China also weaponized the other land features in the West Philippines—Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef), Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef); Burgos Reefs (Gaven Reefs), McKennan Reef (Hughes Reef), Johnson Reef, Zamora Reef (Subi Reef).
DFA said the BRP Sierra Madre was “permanently stationed” in Ayungin Shoal “to serve as a constant Philippine presence in response to China’s illegal occupation in 1995 of Panganiban Reef.”
Ayungin Shoal is only 20 nautical miles away from Panganiban Reef.
“The Philippines remains guided by Unclos and the Arbitral Award as the twin anchors of our policy and actions in the South China Sea. We reiterate that creating and maintaining a favorable and conducive environment is essential to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea situation,” it added.