Malacañang on Thursday urged Congress to craft a measure that would strengthen the Philippines’ claim over the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the call, following the reported presence of nearly 300 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels in different areas in Palawan’s Kalayaan municipality, which is both within and outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“To our lawmakers, we need to craft a new law to strengthen our claim over Kalayaan Island Group,” Roque said in Filipino.
The Philippines, through Presidential Decree (PD) 1596 issued in 1987 by the late president Ferdinand Marcos, anchors its claim over KIG by attaching it to Palawan province.
Roque, however, stressed the need to pass a law amending PD 1956 to enable the Philippines to have an “effective occupation” of KIG.
“Congress really needs to introduce amendments [to PD 1956] because that cannot be done by a president,” he said in Filipino.
On Wednesday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said the country’s maritime patrol on May 9 spotted around 287 Chinese maritime militia vessels in various features of the municipality of Kalayaan.
Maritime patrols conducted on May 9 showed “bigger groupings” of Chinese vessels were spotted in Chinese-built artificial islands, while some were observed near islands occupied by the Philippines, the NTF-WPS said.
Two CMM and two Houbei-class missile warships were also found inside Panganiban (Mischief) Reef), one CMM at Lawak (Nanshan Island), 11 CMMs at approximately 29 nautical miles southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank, and one CMM at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
The NTF-WPS said one Chinese Coast Guard vessel was also seen at the shoal during an earlier patrol on May 7.
Not entire WPS claimed by PH
Roque said the NTF-WPS should put into proper context the exact locations of Chinese vessels in the disputed sea.
“The report should be put into context because we do not know exactly where they are. There are portions of the sea being claimed by other claimants, although the common claimant is China,” he said in Filipino.
Roque issued the statement, as he stressed that the Philippines is not claiming the entire WPS.
He said the Philippines should only be concerned over its claimed areas in WPS that are being occupied by China.
“So let’s not stress ourselves over issues concerning the entire West Philippine Sea because we do not claim the entire West Philippine or South China Sea,” Roque said in Filipino.
The Philippines on July 12, 2016 won its petition filed before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) after the international court ruled against China’s supposedly historic rights over almost the entire disputed WPS.
China has repeatedly ignored the PCA ruling, while the Philippines has sought to resolve the maritime dispute through a diplomatic approach.
Other countries with competing claims in the highly-contested WPS are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
China’s acquired territories ‘won’t ripen into title’
Roque assured the public that China’s building of artificial islands in areas within the Philippines’ EEZ should not be a cause for concern.
Citing the international law, Roque said the use of violence to acquire territories in the disputed territories sea would “never ripen into title.”
“What is the effect of China’s building of artificial islands in areas that are part of our EEZ, as said by the arbitral tribunal? None,” Roque said in Filipino.
Roque also guaranteed that President Rodrigo Duterte’s existing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to maintain a “status quo” in WPS is “working.”
“The policy of the President is consistent and has not changed and as I said, has worked,” he said.