THE PHILIPPINES has filed another diplomatic protest against China over the presence of fishing boats, suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militia, at a Philippine-claimed reef in the South China Sea.

“Firing another diplomatic protest,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., tweeted on Wednesday. “Everyday until the last one’s gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing,” he added.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte sees no need to use force against the Chinese vessels occupying Whitsun Reef, his spokesman said this week.

A national task force overseeing border disputes with China earlier said Beijing had refused to leave Whitsun Reef despite a diplomatic protest filed by Manila last month.

Mr. Duterte thinks the sea dispute could be resolved through peaceful means, Mr. Roque said. The Philippines would continue to assert its legal victory at an international tribunal in 2016, he added.

The Palace official earlier said more than 200 Chinese ships that were spotted at the reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe, were fishing vessels seeking refuge from bad sea conditions.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday renewed the call of the military for the Chinese vessels to leave. In a statement, it said it would file more diplomatic protests until the vessels leave the area.

The Philippines last month filed a diplomatic protest against China after the vessels were spotted moored at the reef. The Chinese Embassy said the reef is part of its territory and the vessels had taken shelter due to rough sea conditions.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, who on Wednesday said he got the coronavirus, had urged the remaining 44 Chinese vessels to leave. He said the Chinese had no reason to stay there since the weather has been good.

The Chinese Embassy reiterated that the reef is part of China’s Nansha Island, adding that the waters around the reef had been “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years.”

It also said it hopes authorities would make constructive efforts and avoid “unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”

Philippine senators have decried the presence of Chinese vessels at the reef.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson accused China of taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to advance its interests.

Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos said a “multilateral joint stand” with neighboring countries was needed.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the Chinese vessels should leave immediately, adding that the Chinese can’t fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone without its consent.

Senators on Tuesday said the Philippines should talk to Southeast Asian countries and western allies about China’s continued incursions in the South China Sea.

Ms. Baraquel renewed her call to investigate the possible collusion and collaboration by Filipinos in the construction of China’s artificial islands in the disputed waterway.

The senator in September filed a resolution to investigate the possible involvement of Filipinos in China’s island-building activities after reports of continued dredging and reclamation around territories claimed by the Philippines.

“I am positive that the more we could look into this issue, the more that we would be able to know how to ultimately oblige China to pay for her shameless adventurism,” she said.

“If Filipinos have colluded to help in China’s brazen abuse, they too won’t escape,” the lawmaker said in Filipino. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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Aquilino Managbanag

By Aquilino Managbanag

Aquilino Managbanag EXPERIENCE: Four years at The Asian Pacific Post, a weekly Canadian newspaper founded in 1993 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The newspaper specialized in reporting Asian issues, and has a readership of 160,000. It has a sister publication in The South Asian Post. EDUCATION: University of Santo Tomas – Manila -- The private Roman Catholic research university is Asia’s oldest existing university. The university takes pride in keeping the Catholic faith and beliefs prominent while holding true to its centuries-old tradition of academic excellence.