MANILA — With 32 remaining Chinese vessels near the Julian Felipe Reef, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says the Philippines will continue its demand for withdrawal.
“From 220 on March 27, their number has gone down to 32 in the past three days. It’s good they (Chinese) followed our request for them to remove their ships from Julian Felipe,” says Lorenzanaon GMA News Digital.
The swarm of vessels, believed to be maritime militia, had caused too much alarm for the country, he says.
“We will continue to ask them to remove the vessels, but they may keep one or two or three, but more than that will create alarm,” he says.
Within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the presence of more than 200 mooring Chinese vessels around the Julian Felipe Reef, which is also part of Kalayaan town, set off an exchange of strong words between the Philippine defense secretary and the Chinese Embassy spokesman.
Meanwhile the Foreign Affairs Department has filed diplomatic protests against Beijing citing the incursion.
The show of support by other nations weighed greatly with the defense secretary, especially when the West Philippine Sea issue was resolved “in a peaceful way,” he says.
In the meantime, the issue on the West Philippine Sea continues to be worked on within the Mutual Defense Treaty framework between the United States and the Philippines.
As with the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, where, according to Lorenzana, China is an obstacle, it aims to set rules for all claimants, including the resolution of accidents and other issues.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr wants to include civilian vessels in the defense treaty.
“I’m not being sarcastic. Seriously, what if Filipinos on a pleasure craft, one of the many yachts out there, crosses an invisible line drawn by China in Philippine waters? What if they are fired upon or heaven forbid rammed?” he tweets.
“Will work to expand definition of trigger to include civilian passenger craft which is only logical. It already includes cyber infrastructure which if monkeyed with is tantamount to an attack on Metropolitan Philippines,” he adds.
Signed in 1951, the Mutual Defense Treaty obligates the Philippines and the US to come to the defense of each other in case of an attack by another country.
It defines armed attack as those that target the “metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
The US State Department on Thursday reiterated Washington’s commitment to the MDT with the Philippines.
“As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The DFA is also looking into reports when a television crew was warded off by the Chinese while cruising around the Julian Felipe Reef. It says it will raise the matter with the Chinese government “if proven to be true.”
The public, meanwhile is instructed to coordinate with Philippine authorities when planning a visit to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea. (JSM/JuanManila)