By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora
MANILA – The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), on Thursday chided China for decrying the entry of a Filipino warship in the nearby waters of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), reminding them that the area is “part of” the Philippines’ administrative responsibility.
The DFA said the Philippines has no obligation to get an approval from China to sail in its own territorial sea.
“The Philippines’ conduct of maritime patrols in the waters around Bajo de Masinloc is a legitimate and routine act of a sovereign country in its territory and territorial sea and is part of the Philippines’ administrative responsibility,” it said in a statement.
“There is no obligation for the Philippines as the sovereign state to seek the approval of another when navigating its own territorial sea,” it added.
The statement comes after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command said it warned off and “restricted” the BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) after it entered the waters “adjacent to China’s Huangyan Dao” without the approval of the Chinese government on Oct. 30.
China claims it has sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc, which it calls Huangyan Dao or Huangyan Island.
“The statement of the Southern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, alleging that the BRP Conrado Yap (PS39) intruded in the waters near Bajo de Masinloc on 30 October 2023, has no legal basis and only serves to raise tensions in the West Philippine Sea,” the DFA said.
“Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippine territory and over which the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction,” it added.
The DFA added that the Arbitral Tribunal has already upheld in 2016 the status of Bajo de Masinloc as a “high-tide feature that has no exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf of its own as opposed to an island”.
Beyond the territorial sea of Bajo de Masinloc, the DFA said, is the EEZ and continental shelf generated from the main Philippine archipelago, over which the Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
The DFA added that the 2016 Arbitral Award has categorically declared that China’s claims to historic rights within its so-called “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea “are contrary” to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“It is China that is intruding into Philippine waters,” it said.
”Chinese authorities are reminded that its apparent exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc and the West Philippine Sea are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the Arbitral Award,” it added.
The ring-shaped coral reef is located 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales and is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile EEZ.
The feature is at least 472 nautical miles away from the nearest coast of China.
No Restriction of Movements
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar on Thursday denied claims that China restricted the movements of corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) while it was conducting sovereignty patrols off Bajo de Masinloc early this week.
“The closest point na nagkaroon sila is about 2.7 nautical miles, so walang restriction at wala pong ibang nagawa ang barko ng Tsina dun sa ating barko. Nagawa po ng ating barko ang kanyang misyon at matagumpay nya itong natapos (The closest they were to each other was about 2.7 nautical miles, so there was no restriction of whatsoever and the Chinese ship did not do anything against our vessel. Our naval ship was able to successfully complete its mission),” he said during PTV-4’s “Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon” briefing.
No other untoward incident also took place.
And when asked to comment on China’s claims that the Philippines has to stop making provocative actions in the West Philippine Sea to ease tensions, Aguilar said it should be China who should stop violating the country’s maritime zones and harassing Filipino fishermen. (With a report from Priam F. Nepomuceno/PNA)