MANILA, Mar 24 (Mabuhay) — President Rodrigo Duterte has intended to hold a dialogue with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian to discuss the presence of the alleged Chinese maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea’s (WPS) Julian Felipe Reef (Union Reefs), Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Duterte wants to resolve the issue with China, which he considers as a close ally of the Philippines, through a diplomatic approach, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a virtual press briefing.

“Sabi kahapon ni Presidente, kakausapin niya ang Chinese ambassador tungkol sa isyung ito. Sabi naman niya wala namang hindi napapag-usapan sa panig ng mga magkakaibigan (The President said yesterday that he would raise the issue to the Chinese ambassador. He said the issue would be settled between two friends),” Roque said.

In a Twitter post on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced that the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed Monday that Chinese militia boats were spotted within country’s EEZ and continental shelf.

AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said around 183 vessels believed to be Chinese maritime militia were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol on Monday in Julian Felipe Reef.

Sobejana stressed that while the country opposed “any move of encroachment of this sovereign territory,” the military would pursue a “peaceful, principled, and rules-based approach” in resolving issues in the WPS.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines clarified Monday that the spotted boats were fishing vessels taking shelter near Julian Felipe Reef “due to rough sea conditions.”

The Chine embassy added that the speculation only causes “unnecessary irritation.”

Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea earlier raised worry over the Philippine Coast Guard report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personal were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.

China claims nearly the entire resource-rich South China Sea. It has competing claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’ petition against China’s supposedly historic rights over almost the entire disputed South China Sea. (MNS)

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