MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday said it will let the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) decide on the supposedly lingering presence of Chinese vessels in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This, after a Washington-based geospatial imagery and data analysis firm Simularity reported Monday that Chinese ships still remain in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in WPS.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in an online presser, said the National Task Force (NTF) on WPS has yet to release a report validating the authenticity of Simularity’s claim about China’s continued incursions into the Philippine waters.
“Unang-una, hindi ko po alam kung totoo iyan because ang naging sistema na po natin ay ang National Task Force on West Philippine Sea ay bibigyan po tayo ng data kung ano ang nangyayari sa West Philippine Sea. Wala naman po akong natatanggap na ganitong report (First and foremost, I don’t know if that is true because our practice is the National Task Force on West Philippine Sea is giving us situation reports on West Philippine Sea. I have yet to receive its report),” he said.
The NTF-WPS, which releases statements and photos of Chinese ships, is covered by Duterte’s directive not to issue public statements on WPS disputes between the Philippines and China.
The DFA, Roque said, has the discretion on whether to pursue a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of its vessels in WPS.
“Iniiwan na po natin sa DFA para tingnan kung tama ito; at kung tama ito, sila na po ang magde-desisyon kung dapat bang mag-file ng diplomatic protest o hindi (We are letting DFA decide whether that is true or not. If that is true, it will be the one to decide whether it should file a diplomatic protest or not),” Roque said.
Approximately 120 Chinese ships are still within the country’s EEZ located on the Philippine side of the Tizard Bank in the Spratly Islands, according to the data released by Simularity.
Satellite images released by Simularity dated April 28 showed that approximately 11 vessels are in Julian Felipe Reef, 158 ships near McKennan (Hughes) Reef, and 87 ships near Burgos (Gaven) Reef.
Based on the satellite images on May 13, no ships were detected at Julian Felipe Reef and McKennan Reef.
However, around 234 Chinese vessels have been spotted on Burgos Reef, as of May 18.
Roque said Beijing’s presence in Burgos Reef came no longer a surprise since it is “occupied by China.”
“Mayroon po silang artificial island doon na parang base militar. Sinasabi ko lang po, kasi ito iyong lugar kung saan diumano ay mayroong 234 ships. (They have an artificial island there that serves as its military base. I am saying this because around 234 ships were allegedly spotted there),” he said.
On May 17, the DFA lodged a diplomatic protest against China’s alleged fishing moratorium, which runs from May 1 to August 16 and covers “waters north of 12 degrees north latitude” which encroaches areas on Philippine territory and exclusive economic zone, including the Bajo de Masinloc. (PNA)