MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines will file a new diplomatic protest with China complaining about frequent patrols by Chinese ships in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.
The department's spokesman, Charles Jose, said the "pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols" in the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone were part of China's efforts to change the status quo in the South China Sea in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and a 2002 regional accord that called for an end to tension-producing actions in the disputed waters.
President Benigno Aquino III, in an interview with Manila's TV5 network aired late Sunday, said the military recently spotted two Chinese "hydrographic ships" in Reed Bank, about 85 nautical miles from western Palawan province, but it was not clear what the maritime survey vessels were doing.
The Reed Bank is a potentially oil and gas rich area. Chinese ships tried to drive away a Philippine exploration vessel there in March 2011. A Philippine general deployed two air force planes, but the Chinese patrol ships had left by the time the aircraft reached the contested area.
Peter Paul Galvez, spokesman for the Philippines' Department of National Defense, said the presence of the maritime survey vessels were monitored at the Reed Bank in June.
"We are protesting the conduct of sovereignty patrols by Chinese vessels on Recto Bank," Jose said, using the Philippines' name for Reed Bank. "The frequent passage of Chinese vessels in Recto Bank is not an innocent exercise of freedom of navigation but is actually done as part of a pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone pursuant to China's unilateral effort to change the status quo in the South China Sea."
There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese Embassy.
China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, have been contesting ownership of mostly barren islands, islets, reefs and surrounding waters in the South China Sea for years.