THE PHILIPPINES has filed 189 diplomatic protests against China this year over their dispute on the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.
The agency issued the statement after the Philippines asked China to explain its seizure of a rocket part that landed in the waters of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea at the weekend.
“As of 22 November, the DFA has issued 189 protests, 61 of which were made during the current administration,” Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ma. Teresita C. Daza told reporters via WhatsApp.
China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year. It has ignored a 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.
The Philippines has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard and its vast fishing fleet.
Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the waterway.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique D. Manalo said the Philippine government stands by the statement of the Philippine Navy on the issue.
“We stand by the statement of the vice admiral, we are taking that to heart,” he told CNN Philippines. “That’s why we have referred it in effect in the note verbale to China and we’d like to see how they reply.”
“Depending on how their reply comes out, then we have to see what to do. In order to begin the process, we would like to get an official comment from China,” he added.
On Sunday, a Chinese coast guard vessel allegedly took by force a rocket debris that was being towed by a Philippine Navy ship in the South China Sea.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning on Monday said the incident had involved a “friendly negotiation.”
“People from the Philippine side salvaged and towed the floating object first. After both sides had a friendly negotiation at the scene, the Philippines handed over the floating object to us,” she said.
She said the object was debris from a rocket’s payload fairing — a casing that protects the nose-cone of a spacecraft — launched by China. “It was not a situation in which we waylaid and grabbed the object.”
Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said he wanted to ask the Chinese why their account was so different from the Philippine Navy report.
He said his visit to China in January could be an opportunity to find a way to avoid further incidents.
In November last year, the Philippines accused China of firing water cannons to prevent its boats from resupplying its outpost at Second Thomas Shoal.
The incident occurred as US Vice-President Kamala Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday for talks aimed at reviving ties with its Asian ally that is central to US efforts to counter China’s increasingly assertive policies toward Taiwan.
Ms. Harris, whose three-day trip included a stop in Palawan, an island on the edge of the South China Sea, reaffirmed US support for the 2016 international tribunal ruling.
Palawan is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the Spratly islands, where China has dredged the sea floor to build harbors and airstrips.
On Monday, she pledged the US would defend the Philippines if it came under attack in the waterway, reaffirming Washington’s unwavering commitment to its former colony.
Ms. Harris’ comments followed a meeting with Mr. Marcos, who welcomed her for the first time at the Philippine presidential palace in Manila.
Mr. Marcos said the two nations’ strong ties had become even more important, given what he called upheavals in the region.
He said her visit to the Philippines was a “very strong symbol” that the relationship of the Philippines with its former colonizer “remains strong.”
Mr. Marcos also said Philippine relations with the United States had gone through different phases and has been strengthened in every way.
The US seeks to pursue its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines, which was signed in 2014 and builds on the Mutual Defense Treaty and 1999 visiting forces agreement, according to a fact sheet e-mailed by the US Embassy in Manila on Monday. It was also posted on the White House website.
US and Philippine forces have also used EDCA sites during Kamandag and Balikatan military exercises.
The US has allotted more than $82 million toward EDCA implementation at five existing locations in the Philippines, according to the statement.
New EDCA locations have also been identified to enable the US and Philippines to continue to work together to meet the objectives of the military pact.
The Philippines signed the military pact with the US, the country’s key western ally, under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.
His successor Rodrigo R. Duterte had threatened to scrap a visiting forces agreement with the US after the US Embassy canceled the visa of his ally Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief who led his deadly war on drugs.
Ms. Harris’ visit to the Philippines, the highest-level trip to the Philippines by a Biden administration official, is seen as part of Washington’s effort to revive ties with Manila, which moved closer to China under Mr. Duterte.
“We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” Ms. Harris told Mr. Marcos. — Norman P. Aquino and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza