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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 4 - 5:01 p.m.) Sansha City, which China recently created to administer its claimed areas in the Spratlys, is holding its first People's Congress.
The city was created last month to administer the disputed Spratly Islands, which China claims and calls Sansha.
The Philippines, which also claims ownership of the Spratlys, has protested the creation of the city.
Tensions have risen in the disputed territory since the Philippine Navy intercepted Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal off Zambales province.
This week, a 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet began operating in waters around the Spratlys.
"The Sansha people's congress, the legislative body of the city, will have 60 delegates directly elected, and its Standing Committee will have 15 members" and its seat of government "will be ... on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands," the website China.org.cn said.
The new city is supposed to have jurisdiction "over 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, covering 13 square kilometers in island area and 2 million square kilometers of water," the site said.
Malacanang said it was at a loss over what it called Beijing’s increased aggressiveness in the continuing territorial dispute.
"Although they claimed that the Scarborough is theirs under the nine-dash line theory, we have always maintained that Scarborough Shoal or the Panatag Shoal is not disputed and it is within our exclusive economic zone," Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
"In no way do we abdicate our sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal because it is part of our exclusive economic zone and that’s very important for us—both domestically and internationally," he added.
Lacierda noted that disputes have flared up in the past but have been discussed peacefully.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated that the government has "already protested by diplomatic note the establishment of Sansha City because the establishment and jurisdiction of Sansha City violate Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island group, also known as the Spratly Islands."
He said the Kalayaan group is covered by Republic Act 9522, which defines the archipelagic baseline of the Philippines.
Reacting to the news, the mayor of the Kalayaan Islands in Palawan said there is no cause for concern over the Sansha City people’s congress.
In fact, Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon told Interaksyon.com the people’s congress could even be seen as a positive step towards "peaceful co-existence" in the diusputed territory.
“I even look at that as a welcome idea because one day who knows that would pave the way for a peaceful co-existence in the contentious area because that (Sansha City) is a local government," Bito-onon said.
Besides, he said, "Our (Philippine) islands are not included (in the people's congress).”
He said that the people’s congress was mostly likely held on the basis of the regime of islands doctrine.
"We cannot deny that in the Spratlys, China occupies nine reefs, so these will report to Sansha City. But the 20 islands of Vietnam report to Vietnam. Our own islands report to us," he said.