Palace piqued by China ships

August 17, 2019

MALACAÑANG yesterday said it would be important to know the reason why Chinese warships have repeatedly been passing through Sibutu Strait near Tawi-tawi.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the recent passage of the armed Chinese vessels reported by the Western Mindanao Command has become an “irritant.”

“We want to know bakit sila doon dumadaan,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said during a media forum yesterday.

However, Panelo could not say for certain whether the incursions will be raised by President Rodrigo Duterte during his expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month.

“That’s the call of the President, whatever issue he wants to take with the President Xi,” Panelo said.

“But I suppose taking that up will also be important because, as Mr. Lorenzana said...the incident has been repeatedly done and, therefore, it is becoming an irritant, and we have to know exactly why they’re passing through that strait when the shortest route going to China can be done on a different route,” he added.

Malacañang on Thursday expressed its concern over the military’s report that five more Chinese warships sailed in Philippine waters without informing Manila, saying it was not “an act of friendship.”

Panelo added the actions of the Chinese warships may be a violation of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which only allows innocent passage of ships through the territorial sea of a coastal state provided that it will be “continuous and expeditious.”

Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command, said on Wednesday that two Chinese warships were spotted in Sibutu Strait near Tawi-tawi in July while three were monitored in August.

Arbitral ruling

Malacañang yesterday further raised expectations that President Rodrigo Duterte would discuss the landmark ruling on the South China Sea when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month.

“His trip to China now, to him, it’s the right time to raise the arbitration ruling,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters at a forum in Quezon City.

“There will be a time when I will invoke that arbitral ruling. This is the time that’s why I’m going there,” Duterte had told Panelo last August 6, adding that the President sought to raise the ruling given that he only had three years left in his term.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 handed a sweeping victory to the Philippines when the tribunal invalidated China’s claims to nearly the entire South China Sea and clarified Manila’s maritime entitlements.

Duterte had also promised to discuss the June 9 Recto Bank ramming, as well as the 60-40 sharing arrangement in the proposed joint oil exploration in the South China Sea.