The Philippines has indisputable sovereign rights over Julian Felipe Reef and the latest Chinese incursion in the area might only trigger “unwanted hostilities,” according Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
Panelo has voiced opposition to the “unjustified stay of Chinese vessels” at the reef, insisting that the country’s sovereignty was “non-negotiable” despite improved economic ties with the Asian giant.
“While we recognize the historical and cultural ties with China that has evolved into a productive relationship, its present territorial incursions is producing an unwelcome stain in their bond and may trigger unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue, as destructiveness consequences are not only undesirable, they are abhorrent as well and anathema to the peace of the region,” he said in a statement issued late Sunday April 4.
“We can negotiate on matters of mutual concern and benefit, but make no mistake about it – our sovereignty is non-negotiable,” he added.
Panelo is the latest Cabinet member to join the “voices of protest and dissent” to China’s incursion in the West Philippine Sea. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. earlier voiced their position against the Chinese encroachment in local waters.
On March 21, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of around 200 Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef, located within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Authorities however spotted 44 Chinese vessels, believed to be manned by maritime militias, still remained at the Julian Felipe Reef while more than 200 merely dispersed in other parts of the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has called on China to pull out these boats but Beijing insisted the fishing vessels were simply taking refuge due to rough sea condition.
Panelo, in his latest statement, asserted the country’s ownership of Julian Felipe Reef, and vowed a fierce protection of the area from any intrusion.
“It is indisputable that the Julian Felipe Reef, located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and pursuant to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” he said.
“Our country has sovereign rights over the subject area and intrusion thereof is deemed an intrusive and unacceptable act on those rights,” he said.
Panelo also made a pitch for the peaceful and rules-based resolution to the latest dispute.
“The matter of territorial dispute has to be resolved in the diplomatic negotiating table or by the dictates of international law,” he said.
He maintained that that the country would “not be blinded” by any intrusion into local waters despite the improved relations with China. Beijing was the first to donate coronavirus vaccines to Manila last month, that paved the way for the start of the immunization drive in the country.
“Even as we appreciate the humanitarian gesture of our neighbor, we will not be blinded however by any act done by it in violation of international law and in derogation of our sovereign rights,” he said.
“Let it be clear to all countries of the world that are protective of their own sovereignties. Like them, we are fiercely protective of ours,” he added.