The Philippines will continue patrolling the Spratlys in the South China Sea, ignoring a warning from China to stop "illegal provocations" in waters around the disputed island chain.
"We're going to continue our patrol because it's ours. That's all there is to it, and then they (China) will continue to call it an illegal provocation… but that's their right. It's a free world," Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin told ABS-CBN News Channel yesterday.
China last Friday accused the Philippines of "illegal provocations" with its routine patrols around the Spratlys, in the southern half of the South China Sea, where Vietnam and Taiwan have also built outposts.
Beijing's response came after Manila lodged a diplomatic protest over what it said was China's illegal confiscation of fish aggregating devices from Filipino fishermen in a disputed lagoon held by Beijing.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said the incident happened three months ago at Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing site seized by China in 2012 after a naval stand-off with the Philippines.
The ministry also protested against China's "continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges (to) Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols".
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last Friday that Manila was "infringing on China's sovereignty and security" with its patrols around the Spratlys.
He also defended China's action at Scarborough, insisting "it is beyond reproach for China's Coast Guard to conduct law enforcement (there) as it is a lawful practice".
Mr Locsin said he had "formally protested (against) certain actions from China in what is indisputably our territorial waters".
Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said on Sunday that "they are the ones who have been doing provocations by illegally occupying some features within our EEZ", referring to the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. "Their so-called historical rights over an area enclosed by their nine-dash line doesn't exist except in their imagination."
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, often invoking its nine-dash line to justify its alleged historic rights to the waterway that is also contested by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.
PATROL WILL NOT END
We're going to continue our patrol because it's ours. That's all there is to it, and then they (China) will continue to call it an illegal provocation… but that's their right. It's a free world.
PHILIPPINE FOREIGN MINISTER TEODORO LOCSIN
Manila filed a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague which ruled in 2016 that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in the areas falling within the "nine-dash line". But China rejected the ruling.
Mr Locsin yesterday also insisted President Rodrigo Duterte was not "kowtowing" to China and had once confronted his Chinese counterpart about China's claims in the South China Sea. "There is no kowtowing. The President himself confronted (Chinese President) Xi Jinping," he said. "The reaction (from Mr Xi) was not very nice."
In his State of the Nation Address last month, Mr Duterte basically admitted he could only sit back and watch whatever China does in the disputed sea. "So what can we do? We have to go to war, and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. I'm useless when it comes to that," he said.
Mr Duterte revived the once-icy diplomatic ties after being elected in 2016 when he largely set aside maritime disputes in favour of wooing Chinese aid, trade and investment.