Diplomatic protests – who, what, why


Senator Francis N. Tolentino

In recent news this month, reports on the Philippines’ diplomatic protests over transgressions in our country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were made by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against China.

According to the DFA, we have filed over 300 of these protests under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte alone.

The more recent one is the diplomatic protest made against the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) incidents. According to the DFA, China conducted illegal fishing in Ayungin Shoal, shadowed Philippine boats on rotation and reprovision mission, and installed buoys and fish nets that blocked the shoal’s entrance.

The Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippine’s EEZ and continental shelf, as affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Award in the South China Sea Arbitration. As such, China is without authority to interfere with the Philippine’s legitimate activities held in the Ayungin Shoal.

Other reported activities of Chinese transgressions of our EEZ in the West Philippine Sea includes China’s unilateral imposition of a fishing ban, “harassment of Filipino fishermen, shadowing and harassment of Philippine maritime assets, unauthorized marine scientific research, non-innocent passage in the Philippine’s archipelagic waters even during military exercises,” and China’s continued construction of artificial islands and installations within the Philippines’ EEZ.

Notably, however, under Article 56 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the coastal state has the sovereign rights within the EEZ for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving, and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds.

The coastal state also has jurisdiction, as provided for in the relevant provisions of the UNCLOS, with regard to: (i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures; (ii) marine scientific research; and (iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment. Further, the coastal state also has other rights and duties provided for under international and domestic laws.
To emphasize, the Philippines has sovereign rights – but not sovereignty – over its EEZ. Exclusive sovereign rights allow the Philippines to exclusively fish and enjoy the marine resources found in the 200-nautical mile EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

Based on the foregoing, China’s acts are violative of the sovereign rights of the Philippines over its EEZ, as provided for under the UNCLOS. It is important to note that the Philippines and China are both State parties to the UNCLOS.

Despite our country’s multiple diplomatic protests, however, reports of incursions in the West Philippine Sea are still continuing to date.

The effectivity of diplomatic protests to resolve international disputes is a topic much discussed in the international community.

According to international experts supporting diplomatic protests, it is a legal and political mechanism that would allow a country to publicize transgressions of another country. Aside from alerting the international community, it allows legal and political discourse in the international sphere. Diplomatic protests also serve to strengthen documentary evidence of one country’s claims and also shows that the country treats that particular incident as a diplomatic issue to be resolved not through warfare or hostilities, but via diplomatic channels.

Just recently, it was reported that President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s administration will continue to file diplomatic protests against aggressions in our Philippine waters. It was said that the upcoming administration aims for a “critical engagement” with China by considering all aspects of the relationship between the Philippines and China.

In my view, our country’s stance on pursuing diplomatic protests against China’s incursions are laudable acts that uphold our country’s national interest and the interest of the Filipino people in pursuit of defending the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Philippines. Under our 1987 Constitution, “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”