Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (File photo)

MANILA – China has no legal basis to prevent the Philippines from conducting maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the country's defense chief said on Wednesday.

"They have no authority or legal basis to prevent us from conducting these exercises within the WPS. Atin yan (That is ours)," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.

This came following China's calls to stop the ongoing maritime exercises of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, noting that such actions are "complicating the situation and escalating the disputes".

He added that Beijing's "historical" claims on the West Philippine Sea have no basis.

"Their claims according to their so-called historical rights have no basis while we have two international documents saying the area is ours: the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea) of which China is a signatory and the Arbitral Award of 2016," he added.

UNCLOS, he said, gave the Philippines sovereign rights to explore the natural resources of an area that is 200 nautical miles away from the mainland.

"The Arbitral Award has categorically stated that the Chinese claim bounded by their so-called nine-dash line according to their 'historical right' has no basis in fact. Therefore, it is they who are encroaching and should desist and leave," he added.

He opposed China's claims that Philippine maritime exercises are "complicating the situation and escalating disputes", saying it is the other way around.

"Walang basis 'yung nine-dash line nila, according to an international tribunal, sila ang nagko-complicate ng situation by insisting to stay within our WPS (Their nine-dash line has no basis according to an international tribunal, they are the ones complicating the situation by insisting to stay within our WPS)," Lorenzana said. (PNA)