Manila [Philippines], April 17 (ANI): As Chinese coast guard ships continue to amass near a disputed reef in the South China Sea, Philippines lawmakers and foreign policy experts called on the country's President Rodrigo Duterte to end the "policy of subservience" towards Beijing.
Duterte has been accused of being silent at a time when Chinese "maritime militia" vessels have refused to withdraw the ships from Manila's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
Several Filippino officials, including the country's top diplomat and the defence chief have openly objected to the Chinese provocative actions.
During an address on Thursday night, Duterte did not mention the South China Sea. His spokesman said earlier that the president preferred to pursue his "diplomatic initiatives" in "private", Al Jazeera reported.
Earlier on Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard revealed that despite repeated demands by Manila that Chinese ships leave Whitsun Reef, at least 240 Chinese vessels remained in the area and surrounding waters as recently as Wednesday.
Senator Leila de Lima, an opposition member, had warned that the Philippines could become "just another one of China's satellites" if Duterte and the military failed to confront China.
De Lima said despite the expression of support by the United States towards Manila's position in the South China Sea, Duterte's "policy of grovelling before China" could prove detrimental to the integrity of the Philippine territory.
Since Duterte came to office in 2016, he has nurtured closer ties with China and has openly shown his disdain towards Washington, even threatening to end the US-Philippine military alliance.
Risa Hontiveros, another opposition senator, said it was time for Duterte to confront his "best friend" China, for its "blatant deception".
"China is truly intent on refusing any diplomatic means of resolving our disputes," she said.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, an international law expert, said unless Duterte speaks and defends the country's sovereignty, China will not take the Philippines position seriously.
"He must stand up for himself. Because if his subordinates do the talking, China will not listen. And if the president is silent, then China will continue ... the Chinese will take us seriously if the president will speak," Carpio said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.
"The maritime militia vessels are manned by the maritime militia under the payroll of the Chinese government. In fact, the maritime militia are placed under the command of the [Chinese] navy," he said.
The defence and foreign affairs ministries in the Philippines have been up in arms for a fortnight over the presence of 220 fishing boats suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militia at Whitsun Reef, with statements flying back and forth over the alleged incursion into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Secretary of Philippines Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin Jnr said last Wednesday he was "firing off another diplomatic protest" to China's embassy and would continue objecting "every day until the last one's gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing".
Even after such an intensifying row, China hasn't shown any sign of relocation of the vessels. Instead, they have accused the Philippines of using a 2016 international tribunal ruling, which deprived China of certain outcrops of territorial-generating status, the ruling from the permanent court of arbitration effectively punches holes in China's all-encompassing "nine-dash" line that stretches deep into the South China Sea, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
The 2016 International Tribunal Ruling denies China of its thousand years of fishing rights in the area.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.
Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific. (ANI)