By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES has protested Bejing’s yearly four-month-long fishing ban in the South China Sea, saying it violates international law, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.

In a statement on Monday, the DFA said Manila has filed a diplomatic note with China protesting the fishing ban, which started on May 1 and will end on Sept. 16, saying it would worsen tensions in the waterway.

“The Philippines stressed that the unilateral imposition of the fishing moratorium raises tensions in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, and directly contravenes the understanding between President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping to manage differences through diplomacy and dialogue and to de-escalate the situation at sea,” it said.

The agency said China cannot impose the ban within Philippine maritime zones, over which Manila has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment by reporters via Viber.

Manila has filed 158 diplomatic protests against China under the Marcos administration over the tension at sea, 25 in all this year, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza told reporters in a WhatsApp message on Monday.

She noted that the Philippines protests the fishing ban regularly.

This year, however, China has declared the ban alongside its intentions to detain foreign nationals it deems trespassing in areas of the South China Sea still being contested by other nations.

Beijing also issued new rules that would enforce a 2021 law that explicitly allows the Chinese Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels within these contested waters.

Last Friday, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. said these orders by Beijing on how its coast guard could operate in the South China Sea are a “provocation” and cause for international maritime concern.

China’s potential invasion of Taiwan should be a major defense issue for the Philippines as it may strengthen Beijing’s presence in the South China Sea, a geopolitical expert said on Monday following recent Chinese military drills near the democratic island-nation.

Manila should not only talk about repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan amid escalating Chinese aggression in parts of Taiwan, which is just over 300 kilometers away from the northernmost province of Batanes, said Robin Michael U. Garcia, president and chief executive officer of WR Advisory Group.

“Beyond the repatriation issue — a very, very important issue — we have to go beyond that and think that Taiwan is a defense issue for the Philippines,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the WR Numero security forum in Makati City

“It’s actually a defense issue. That if there’s an impending or imminent occupation of Taiwan, the conflict will spill over to Luzon,” he added, “and Manila is in Luzon.”

“So even if you actually successfully repatriate the Philippines back to the Philippines, the war and the conflict might actually be in Luzon,” he added.  “So that’s something that we have to talk about.”

China has launched military drills surrounding Taiwan, days after the inauguration of new Taiwanese President William Lai (Lai Ching-te), whom China has called a “dangerous separatist.” 

In January, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. drew the ire of China when he congratulated Mr. Lai on his electoral victory. Mr. Marcos later clarified it was just an act of “courtesy,” reiterating that the Philippines is still committed to the “One China” policy, which was signed by his late father and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1975. — with a report from Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza