MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has filed around 100 diplomatic protests against China’s various incursions in the West Philippine Sea despite the President’s vaunted “pivot to China” foreign policy.
The Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) office for strategic communications executive director Ivy Banzon-Abalos told reporters on Saturday (May 29): “”We have filed 99 protest notes, as at May 28, 2021.”
A DFA official said the tally has been accumulated since Mr Duterte came to power in June 2016.
The DFA on Friday filed its 100th diplomatic protest against the “incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities” of Chinese vessels particularly off Pag-asa, also known as Thitu Island.
The DFA asserted that the “Pag-asa Islands is an integral part of the Philippines, over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction”.
The Philippines has been filing protests almost daily since last month when Chinese vessels started swarming around Julian Felipe or Whitsun Reef. At least 220 Chinese vessels moored and lined up in the vicinity of the reef in April.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr earlier vowed to “fire off” a diplomatic protest against China every day to clear the country’s 370km exclusive economic zone of any illegal Chinese vessel.
A lawmaker also urged the government to take additional steps to secure the country’s maritime domain and sought the allocation of an initial P5 billion (S$138 million) for the installation of 12 naval outposts.
Under House Bill No. 9420, or the proposed Philippine Navy Forward Operating Bases Act, Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Pimentel wants the bases to be constructed in 12 key areas in the country, including the West Philippine Sea.
Mr Pimentel said four of the naval bases would be positioned in Luzon’s western seaboard and three in the eastern coast to guard the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise.
The identified locations were Busuanga, Palawan; Subic Bay, Zambales; Mavulis Island, Batanes; Lubang Island, Mindoro; Surigao, Surigao del Norte; Allen, Northern Samar; Polillo Island, Quezon; Bicobian in Divilacan, Islabela; Casiguran, Aurora; Sarangani, Davao Occidental; Balabac, Palawan; and Mapun, Tawi-Tawi.
“We expect the outposts to serve as the future staging and resupply sites for the Navy’s new generation of warships and battle craft,” said Mr Pimentel, chair of the House strategic intelligence committee.
Mr Duterte has been under increasing domestic pressure to take a harder line against China. In late April, he said that he will not withdraw navy and coastguard boats patrolling the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
But at the same time, he called China “a good friend”, to which the Philippines owed a “big debt of gratitude” for its help with coronavirus vaccine donations, among other things.