By Catherine S Valente/Manila Times
President Rodrigo Duterte will discuss the entry of Chinese vessels into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month, Malacanang said yesterday.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said the issue would be tackled in light of recent military reports that Chinese warships and survey vessels have been spotted in Sibutu Strait.
“I suppose taking that up would be also important because, as Delfin Lorenzana, secretary of National Defence said, the incident has been repeatedly done and therefore is becoming an irritant,” Panelo said in a media interview.
“We have to know exactly why they’re passing through the strait when the shortest route going back to China can be done in a different route. So, we want to know, really, why Chinese ships pass through that area,” he added.
Lorenzana, who will accompany the president in his visit to China, earlier questioned the presence of the Chinese vessels in Philippine waters.
“I hope the matter will be taken up in order to put an end to all these, because our people are asking why they (Chinese warships) are there and we at the Defence department are already getting irritated because they kept on ignoring us,” he said. The Western Mindanao Command earlier reported the presence of Chinese warships with their Automatic Identification Systems turned off.
Lt Gen Cirilito Sobejana said five Chinese warships recently passed through Sibutu Strait without permission from Philippine authorities. He said two Chinese warships were spotted in July and three in August.
Although the vessels were not “hostile,” Sobejana said their passage through the strait could not be considered “innocent.”
“When you say innocent passage, it’s only a straight line, while they had a curved route. That is no longer considered as innocent passage,” Sobejana told reporters.
Panelo agreed with the military that the repeated entry of Chinese vessels was disturbing.
“We express concern with that kind of incident because if they keep on saying that we are friends, I don’t think this is an act of friendship,” the Palace official said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr had filed diplomatic protests over such incursions, and over the swarming of over a hundred Chinese vessels around Philippines-occupied Pagasa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine (South China) Sea.
Duterte’s visit to China this month will be his fifth since he assumed office in 2016.
Since assuming the presidency, the president had downplayed Manila’s victory, choosing instead to enhance ties with Beijing.
Early this month however, Panelo announced that the president would finally raise the arbitration court’s ruling in a “one-on-one dialogue” with his Chinese counterpart.
“The time has come,” the Palace official said.
He explained that the president decided to invoke the ruling because he was nearing the end of his term.
“Remember that I said before that there will be a time when I will invoke the arbitral ruling? This is the time that’s why I’m going there,’” Panelo quoted the president as saying.
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