New diplomatic protests filed over Chinese vessels lingering in WPS

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 14) — The Philippine government on Wednesday sent two more diplomatic protests to China for the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

There’s one protest for the Chinese vessels that remained moored at Julian Felipe Reef, while the other is for the dispatch of more ships in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The agency earlier warned it would lodge a diplomatic protest each day until the Chinese vessels leave Julian Felipe Reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, 175 nautical miles of Bataraza, Palawan.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea on March 20 reported the presence of around 200 vessels in the area. The Chinese government said these were not militia but fishing vessels seeking shelter from bad weather. However, the vessels lingered for weeks despite the Philippines’ repeated demands for them to leave.

On Tuesday night, the government task force reported that 240 Chinese ships were spotted around Pagkakaisa Banks and Pag-asa Islands, including the nine vessels that were still at Julian Felipe Reef.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. announced on Twitter the swarming of Chinese vessels warrants another diplomatic protest.

“Fired it off,” Locsin said. “Beautifully written but you will never see it because I’m like that… Only Senate and House foreign relations."

Earlier on Tuesday, Locsin, citing information from the government task force, said in a tweet that there were “only nine ships left” in the country’s waters. But authorities who patrolled the area over the weekend later reported there were hundreds of Chinese ships still roaming around Philippine waters.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Command said it saw about 136 Chinese maritime militia vessels at Burgos Reef. Another 65 vessels were spotted at Chigua Reef, 11 at Ayungin Shoal, nine at Julian Felipe Reef, six at Panganiban Reef, five at Kota Island, four at Pag-Asa Islands, and one at Likas Island. These areas all fall within the Philippines' EEZ.

The task force also pointed out the presence of Chinese Navy vessels — two Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban Reef, one Corvette class warship at Kagitingan Reef, and one Navy Tugboat at Zamora Reef. Two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were at Pag-asa Island. At Scarborough Shoal, there were two other vessels of the People's Liberation Army Navy, three Chinese Coast Guard ships, and 10 militia vessels.

"All these warships of the PLA Navy contribute to the militarization of the area," the task force said.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea in rejection of the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated its historic nine-dash line claim to the global waterway. The landmark decision recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to areas within its EEZ that China contests.

The DFA said it reaffirmed the country's arbitral win when it summoned China's Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian on Monday over the "illegal lingering presence" of Chinese vessels in Philippine EEZ.