MANILA – Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian has assured President Rodrigo Duterte that the Philippines need not worry over the reported presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Filipino Reef (Union Reefs), Malacañang said on Thursday.
Huang gave the assurance when he paid a “social call” on Duterte at Malacañan Palace in Manila, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online press briefing.
“Nagkaintindihan naman po si Presidente (The President [and the Chinese ambassador] understood each other),” Roque said.
During his meeting with Huang, Duterte raised concern over the reported sighting of Chinese ships, Roque said.
Roque added that Duterte had made it clear that he would protect the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its maritime domain and uphold the country’s historic win over the contested West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“Naging malinaw ang Presidente na siya ay Presidente at puprotektahan ang teritoryo ng Pilipinas (The President has taken a firm stance that he is the President and he will protect the Philippine territory),” he said.
Huang, Roque said, echoed China’s stance that the spotted Chinese boats off the Julian Felipe Reef in the WPS were merely taking shelter due to rough sea conditions.
“Sinabi po ni Pangulo na concerned po talaga tayo dahil kahit sino namang bansa, mako-concern po dahil may mga barko. Ang sabi naman po ng Chinese ambassador, sila po ay mga mangingisda, na ayun nga po, nandoon sila dahil they were seeking shelter also (The President said we are really concerned because any country will be concerned if there are spotted boats [within their territory]. The Chinese ambassador said the vessels carry fishermen who were there because they were seeking shelter also),” Roque said.
Roque refused to disclose the date of the meeting between Duterte and Huang, but noted that it happened “during the time [the spokesperson] is in isolation.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Sunday lodged a note verbale to protest the “unauthorized and lingering” presence of Chinese ships in and around Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted moored in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef as early as March 7.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed on March 22 that around 183 Chinese vessels were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol in Julian Felipe Reef.
Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped, shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
Roque believed that the incident should not be deemed controversial.
“Sa tingin ko po wala po talagang kontrobersiya dahil hindi naman nila pinaglalaban na mananatili sila doon (I think there is no controversy because they are not saying that they would stay there),” he said.
Roque is also confident that the issue would be resolved between the Philippines and China since the two nations are “friends.”
“Naniniwala po tayo sa panig ng pagkakaibigan ay mareresolba naman po ito (We believe that this will be resolved between friends),” he said. “Sabi ng Tsina, nandoon lang ang kanilang mga mangingisda dahil daw po they were seeking refuge from the bad weather. So sana po lumipas na ‘yung bad weather at in the spirit of friendship, inaasahan po natin na hindi mananatili doon ang mga barkong ‘yun (China said its fishermen are there because they were seeking refuge from the bad weather. So we hope for the end of the bad weather and in the spirit of friendship, we expect the vessels to leave the place).”
China, which claims almost all the entire South China Sea, has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’ petition against China’s supposedly historic rights over almost the entire disputed South China Sea.
China, however, has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling. (PNA)