November 17, 2023
MANILA – The Philippines exercises sovereign rights over Ayungin, or Second Thomas Shoal, and its surrounding waters under international law, overriding any “historic rights” being invoked by China, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.
“The law is clear,” the agency’s spokesperson Teresita Daza said, noting that Ayungin was within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The underwater feature lies some 195 km off mainland Palawan.
“China cannot, therefore, lawfully exercise sovereignty over it,” Daza, using unusually strong language, said in a statement to reporters.
“As clearly stated by the 2016 arbitral award, Unclos superseded any ‘historic rights’ or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed by Unclos. China cannot claim entitlements in areas of the ‘nine-dashed line,’ now ‘10-dashed line,’ that exceed Unclos limits,” she said.
Daza was referring to the ruling of an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, voiding China’s sweeping claims in the region and upholding the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and exploit resources within its EEZ.
Earlier, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) “gravely violated China’s sovereignty” when PCG ships “intruded” in Ayungin during a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded Philippine Navy warship serving as an outpost there.
Daza took exception to Wang’s suggestion that the Philippines “give prior notification each time” it was to go on a resupply mission to Ayungin.
“We will not do so,” she said, adding: “The resupply missions are legitimate activities within our EEZ, in accordance with international law.”
Daza said it was China that erected “illegal structures” in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in 1995 in the guise of building a “fisherman’s shelter” that would later turn into militarized artificial islands.
“Let us not forget” that this was the same case for the Calderon (Cuarteron), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Burgos (Gaven), McKennan (Hughes) and Johnson (Zamora) reefs, she said.
“We call on China to remove all these illegal structures, cease reclamation in the South China Sea, and be accountable for the damage caused by these illegal activities,” Daza said.
On Nov. 10, according to the PCG, some 38 Chinese vessels swarmed around Ayungin, with several Chinese vessels harassing Philippine supply boats. But the Filipinos were still able to complete their mission.
The Inquirer reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Manila for comment but there was no immediate reply.
Holiday supply mission
Also on Thursday, a senior National Security Council (NSC) official said the body had turned down a civilian group’s offer to bring gifts and supplies during the holiday season to Filipino soldiers stationed on BRP Sierra Madre for security reasons.
NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said the council was forced to reject the proposed “Christmas convoy civilian supply mission” as the area remained a sore spot between Manila and Beijing.