MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for China to withdraw its vessels from the West Philippine Sea was not ignored, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that it has filed two diplomatic protests against China, including one for the illegal presence of the Chinese Coast Guard and their “belligerent” actions against their Filipino counterpart in Bajo de Masinloc.
Roque said it was not true that China disregarded his call because 201 of the 220 vessels in the disputed waters already left the area.
“Huwag po natin sabihing in-ignore ang ating Presidente (Let’s not say that the President was ignored),” he said in a Palace press briefing.
He said China heeded Duterte’s call because the Philippines and China now enjoy “warm relations”.
“I think that’s 201 fishing vessels po ang umalis ‘no (left) and all because of the message of the President and the warm relations that we enjoy with China,” he said.
He expressed hope that the 19 remaining Chinese ships leave the area for good.
“Siyempre po inaasahan natin itong mga buwan na ito na mas marami pang fishing vessels na aalis diyan ‘no. Doon sa natitirang kakaunti, we’re still hoping na aalis po sila (Of course we expect this month that more fishing vessels with leave there. To the remaining few, we’re hoping they leave),” he added.
Meanwhile, he added that even if the area is part of the Philippines’ claim at the Kalayaan Group of Islands, the country has never been in possession of it.
“Let me also clear na iyong pinag-uusapan natin ngayon bagama’t kabahagi ng Philippine claim to the Kalayaan Group of Islands has never been in the possession of the Philippines. Para pong Sabah ‘yan na may claim tayo na hindi naman natin na-possess (Let me also clear that the area in question, even if it is part of the Philippines’ claim to the Kalayaan Group of Islands has never been in the possession of the Philippines just like Sabah that we have a claim on but we never possessed),” he said.
On Sunday, Roque urged retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to allow Duterte to pursue his “sound foreign policy decisions”.
“They should let the President Rodrigo Roa Duterte pursue his careful, calibrated, and calculated foreign policy to its ultimate success,” he said.
On Monday, the DFA said it has protested the “shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuver, and radio challenges” done by the Chinese Coast Guard on the vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard who were conducting legitimate patrols and training exercises in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc from April 24 and 25.
It filed another one for the “incessant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence” of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels in the country’s maritime zones. (PNA)