THE GOVERNMENT should take action against China’s maneuverings in the South China Sea even during the election campaign period, a senator said on Monday. 

“Its call to action should not be drowned by the frenzy of the political campaign as China’s intransigence on the West Philippine Sea issue remains real,” Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said in a Viber message to reporters, referring to areas of the waterway within the country’s exclusive economic zone. 

Congress is on recess to allow national and local politicians to campaign for the May 9 elections. 

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which overlaps with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas. 

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday reported that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel had made a close distance maneuver to BRP Malabrigo, a Philippine ship off Scarborough Shoal, on March 2, risking collision. 

It was the fourth time within a 10-month period since May last year that Chinese Navy ships had sailed too close to Philippine vessels, the Philippine Coast Guard said, citing a breach of international law. 

“We must not let this pass without raising protest even as we continue to bolster diplomatic initiatives with other foreign nations in asserting sovereignty over our waters,” Ms. Poe said. 

She said the government must act urgently because the presence of Chinese ships “poses risks to the safety of navigation and impedes on Filipinos’ rights to benefit from marine wealth in our exclusive economic zone.” 

The Chinese Embassy told reporters via Viber it would issue a statement soon. 

Earlier this month, the Philippines summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to explain how a People’s Liberation Army Navy electronic reconnaissance ship had entered Philippine waters without permission on Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.  

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended the ship’s intrusion, calling it an exercise of “innocent passage.” 

The Philippines earlier said the movements of the ship did not follow a track that could be considered continuous and expeditious, lingering in the Sulu Sea for three days. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan 

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