Wednesday, June 22, 2011


MANILA, March 4 (AP) - (Kyodo)—The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest Friday against China over an incident Wednesday where Chinese patrol boats tailed and attempted to ward off a team of Filipino oil explorers in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

President Benigno Aquino said Friday the Department of Foreign Affairs communicated with the Chinese Embassy in Manila and "handed them a protest on the incident."

The Philippines said that at least two Chinese ships harassed personnel of the Energy Department engaged in oil exploration at Reed Bank in the Spratlys, about 250 kilometers off Palawan Province.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the area is within Philippine territory.

The Spratlys, spanning more than 1,000 kilometers in the South China Sea, include oil-and-gas-rich islands and reefs.

The islands are claimed wholly by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. A Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was forged by the claimant countries in 2002.

"The Chinese patrol boats approached the explorers who are well within our territory. They were told to stop and leave the area because that's 'Chinese territory' although we know that it's well within our territory," Juancho Sabban, commander of the military unit in charge of the western part of the Philippines, said.

In reaction, the Philippine military sent two aircraft to the area and the Chinese vessels immediately left on their own, Sabban said.

According to the Energy Department, the Reed Bank covers about 71,000 square km and its basin is believed to have significant natural resources.

Without divulging details of the incident, Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun maintained China's "indisputable sovereignty over the...islands and their adjacent waters."

"China has been consistently sticking to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea," he claimed Friday.

"The Chinese side maintains that the related disputes should be resolved through peaceful negotiations," he added.

Del Rosario said his department is now "in dialogue" with Chinese officials as they seek an explanation on what happened.

Aquino said that aside from filing protest, an expert on the Spratly Islands is also heading to Beijing to discuss the matter.

He said a coast guard ship will be deployed to the site to assist this energy-contracted survey ship" in finishing its job.

The Philippine Navy has also sent a patrol ship to the area.