PH sends note verbale to China following Pag-asa Island incident

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(File photo of Pag-asa Island)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — The Philippines has sent a note verbale to China after the latter's coast guard took a floating object retrieved by the Philippine Navy near Pag-asa Island, the country's top diplomat confirmed on Thursday.

"We have issued a note verbale already, seeking clarification from China on the incident. We, of course, have our own reports, but we would like to hear it from the side of China," Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo told CNN Philippines' The Source.

The country's top envoy said the note verbale was sent on Wednesday. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) noted in a statement this was upon the instruction of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Manalo added the DFA continues to study the incident, including further diplomatic actions that may need to be taken, based on the official reply of Beijing.

He also emphasized that the subject of the note is to seek clarification on the incident involving the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard. Other events that could be related to that will be considered depending on the reply the Philippines will receive.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Western Command on Monday reported that the unidentified floating object the Philippine Navy had retrieved off Pag-asa Island was taken "forcefully" by the Chinese Coast Guard last Sunday morning.

The Chinese embassy identified the floating object as the wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by the East Asian nation. It also denied it forcefully took the item, saying there was a "friendly consultation" between involved parties.

Hours after the Sunday incident, residents in Pag-asa Islands reported hearing blasts that were believed to be from the artillery guns/weapons on the Subi Reef or the Zamora Reef, a Beijing-occupied feature in the West Philippine Sea.

Manalo said the DFA stands by the statement made by Philippine authorities. If they find Beijing's comment on the note verbale lacking, clarifications will be further sought, he added.

"We'll have to take it step-by-step but depending on the reply, if we find the reply lacking or we need further clarification, we will continue the discussion perhaps through notes verbale or if necessary, through verbal face-to-face meetings," he explained.

Military still awaiting complete report

The military, meanwhile, said it has yet to wrap up its probe into the incident as it awaits further details.

AFP Chief of Staff Bartolome Vicente Bacarro, however, allayed fears it has caused friction between Filipino and Chinese forces.

"As of now, wala naman (we don't see any), but we are looking into the details of the investigation. We have requested the defense attaché of China to submit also how they see things, what happened doon sa (in the) area," Bacarro said separately.

Amid the ongoing territorial dispute in the contested waterway, the Philippines has filed 189 protests against China in 2022 alone, 61 of which were made during the Marcos administration.

China insists on its sweeping claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea. This is despite a 2016 ruling of an arbitral tribunal in The Hague that invalidated China's claims in the South China Sea and recognized Manila's sovereign rights in areas of its exclusive economic zone that Beijing contests.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims in the waterway.