China bullied Philippines in Scarborough Shoal takeover, Lorenzana says

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President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (R) (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 30) — China does not walk the talk in the South China Sea dispute, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.

Lorenzana said he has heard top Beijing officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, promoting peace in the contested region, "but it does not match what they are doing on the ground."

Lorenzana was asked to react on Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua's speech on Monday where the diplomat said Beijing "will not take the first shot" over disputes.

Lorenzana said he has previously belied China's claims that they "do not bully people around" and that they "follow international law."

"Well the way that they took over Scarborough Shoal, to me that is, that was bullying," Lorenzana told reporters.

READ: China's 'most destructive' boats back in Scarborough – think tank

The bullying

The Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal to China after a controversial standoff in 2012. China blocked Filipino fishermen from Scarborough, also known as Panatag Shoal, which lies 120 nautical miles from Zambales. This prompted Manila to file a case for international arbitration, which it largely won.

The landmark ruling in July 2016 recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to some areas in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Although it did not rule on which country has sovereignty over Scarborough, it called out China for violating the Filipinos' traditional fishing rights in the area.

China rejects the arbitration ruling and insists on its sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, or areas the Philippines either claims or occupies in the global waterway. Beijing has built artificial islands, blocked Filipino fishermen from entering, and interfered in oil exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea.

READ: Plan to retake Scarborough shelved after Duterte's order vs. 'overly celebrating' Hague win

"The Chinese actually, since they started grabbing islands there, are bullying people around, syempre magdududa yung tao (of course, the people will doubt)," Lorenzana told reporters.

According to the latest nationwide surveys, Filipinos' trust in China sank after the June 9 Recto Bank incident, where a Chinese vessel rammed a Filipino boat, leaving all 22 fishermen floating in the open seas for hours before being rescued by a Vietnamese vessel. Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, is an underwater feature west of the Philippines that is being claimed by both Manila and Beijing. The 2016 international arbitral ruling, however, recognized Recto Bank as part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

"So until such time... that the behavior of the Chinese will match their rhetoric, then the low trust of the Philippines will continue," Lorenzana said.

These strong words from the country's defense chief comes amid incessant criticisms of President Rodrigo Duterte's soft stance on the dispute, repeatedly saying that he cannot go to war against China for fear of losing Filipinos' lives.

READ: Carpio to Duterte: There are many ways to enforce arbitral ruling other than war

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls contributed to this report.