China's 'Outrageous' South China Sea Moves Slammed in Philippines Independence Day Protests

Saturday marked the 123rd anniversary of the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain. But instead of partaking in Independence Day festivities, several groups in the Philippines marched to the Chinese embassy to protest China's activities in the South China Sea.

Amihan National Chairperson Zenaida Soriano said that Independence Day "is a reminder that the national fight against colonizers and foreign oppressors is a fundamental part of Philippine history."

China controversially claims much of the South China Sea as its own, including portions the Philippines also claims.

"We are not really free and independent. Foreign-dictates over our national economy, politics, culture and way of life persist," Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said in a statement.

In March, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea—the name used in the Philippines for part of the South China Sea—spotted over 200 Chinese ships in the Julian Felipe Reef, believed to be Chinese maritime militia. The task force verified that it had received reports that they were just fishing boats, though it reported that the vessels appear to show no signs of "actual fishing activities."

Firing another diplomatic protest. Everyday til the last one’s gone like it should be by now if it is really fishing.

— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) April 7, 2021

Diplomatic protests were filed against China, and China denied all allegations that the ships were military.

"There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged," its embassy in Manila said in a statement. "Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation. It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner."

Tensions rose over the last several months, as disputes and calls for peace by the Chinese embassy were met with brash reactions. Philippine business groups called for China's withdrawal, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has received much criticism for staying silent in the matter.

LOOK: Business groups call for China to withdraw vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, urges Beijing to respect PH’s sovereignty. @rapplerdotcom

— Ralf Rivas (@RalfRivas) April 14, 2021

"That the Duterte regime has willingly allowed China's violations in the West Philippine Sea to continue unaddressed is an outrageous insult to the Filipino people of past, present and future," said Soriano.

In 2016, Duterte announced an agreement between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping that allows China to fish in Philippine waters. But Duterte's advisors denied any such verbal agreement being made.

The final push in the dispute has been the Chinese boats beginning to drill oil in the reef, which was previously agreed upon that it would be left alone. Later, China issued a statement at a press conference.

"We urge the relevant side to respect China's sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

In a separate statement, the Philippine Department of National Defense said: "China has no business telling the Philippines what we can and cannot do within our own waters."

Newsweek reached out to the Philippine Department of National Defense for comment.

Philippines South China Sea
Filipinos march as they mark Independence day on June 12 with a protest against continued Chinese assertion in the South China Sea, outside the Chinese Embassy in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images