The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday lashed out at the Chinese embassy for rebuffing Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had demanded that Chinese vessels leave Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly denounces the Embassy’s attempt to impugn the Secretary of National Defense—a Cabinet Official of the Republic of the Philippines—by calling his statement ‘unprofessional,’” the DFA said in their statement.

The DFA said China’s continuous deployment of its vessels “blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign right, and jurisdiction.”

Lorenzana on Saturday called on Chinese vessels to leave the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Philippines’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

He took Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian to task and questioned the need for 44 Chinese vessels to stay at Julian Felipe Reef amid good weather.

“I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan,” the defense chief said.

On April 3, the Chinese embassy stood its ground, saying that the reef, which it referred to as Niu’e Jiao, was vital for Chinese fishermen not only for their livelihood but also as a place of refuge from harsh weather conditions at sea.

“The waters around Niu’e Jiao has been a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years. The Chinese fishermen have been fishing in the waters for their livelihood every year. It is completely normal for Chinese fishing vessels to fish in the waters and take shelter near the reef during rough sea conditions,” the Chinese embassy’s statement said.

“Nobody has the right to make wanton remarks on such activities,” it said. Anne Beatrice Lagman