Duterte raises concern over presence of vessels in WPS with China–Palace

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte raised the country’s concern on the presence of Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea with the Chinese government, Palace said Thursday.

In his press conference, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte recently met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian.

“Personal po silang nagkita dahil nga po bumati ng Happy Birthday si Ambassador (They met personally because the Ambassador wanted to greet him a Happy Birthday).”

“It was a personal visit between two very close friends,” Roque said. The President will celebrate his 76th birthday on Sunday, March 28.

During the meeting, Roque said Duterte raised the Hague ruling, invalidating China’s claim to the West Philippine Sea with the Ambassador.

“Syempre po sinabi ni President yung mga sinabi niya sa UN (United Nations) na naninindigan tayo at po-protektahan ang ating teritoryo, naniniwala tayo na kailangan maresolba ito sa pamamagitan ng UNCLOS at paninindigan natin yung panalo natin sa arbitral tribunal (The President reiterated what he told the UN (United Nations) that we will stand by and protect our territory, that we believe that this has to be resolved through the [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] and we stand by our win at the arbitral tribunal),” Roque said.

“Sinabi po ng Pangulo na medyo well concerned po talaga tayo dahil kahit sino namang bansa ma-coconcern kung ganung karaming barko (The President said that we are concerned, any country would express concern given the number of ships),” Roque further added.

The Philippines on Sunday filed a diplomatic protest against China over what it called a “swarming and threatening presence” of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea and demanded that the vessels be withdrawn from the area, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

According to reports, about 220 vessels, believed to be operated by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were seen at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.

Roque said during the meeting, the Ambassador repeated to the President that fishing vessels were only seeking shelter against the bad weather in the disputed waters.

“Ang sabi naman po ng Chinese Ambassador sila po ay mga mangingisda na yun nga po nanudun sila dahil they were seeking shelter also (The Chinese Ambassador said they are fishermen and they were there to seek shelter),” he said.

Despite the presence of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea, Roque said he does not see any controversy arising from the incident because the Chinese government is not insisting that the ships stay in the disputed waters.

“Sa tingin ko wala po talagang kontrobersya dahil hindi naman po nila pinaglalaban na talagang mananatili sila dun (I think there is no controversy there because they are not insisting that they should stay there),” Roque said.

Earlier this week the United States government said it stands with the Philippines in the standoff with China over the West Philippine Sea reef.