The government on Tuesday said it would drive away foreign ships passing through the country’s territorial waters without permission.
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At a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte wants passing foreign vessels to seek permission first, adding that non-compliance may force the Philippines to act in an “unfriendly manner.”
“The President is putting on notice that beginning today, all foreign vessels passing our territorial waters must notify and get clearance from the proper government authority way ahead, in advance of the actual passage,” Panelo said.
“Either we get... compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” he added.
The warning from the Palace came as the Navy reported a Chinese coast guard vessel near the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Shoal in the Spratlys and 27 Chinese fishing boats in the surrounding Panata reef earlier this month.
In Ayungin Shoal, Lt. Col. Stephen Penetrante, spokesman of the Western Command, said the Chinese ship was circling the Philippine-held territory when it was sighted by air and sea patrol units.
Ayungin Shoal is occupied by dozens of soldiers aboard the Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre, which ran aground in 1999.
The Navy has fortified the rusty ship in response to reports of an impending invasion following the Chinese occupation of Mischief Reef.
“The Chinese coast guard was seen circling Ayungin Shoal and transferring into other areas,” Penetrante said. “We are monitoring their activities.”
A week earlier, a Chinese ship passed through the Sibutu Strait without notifying the Philippines.
The action prompted the Philippines to file diplomatic protests against China.
At Panata reef, Penetrante said 27 Chinese fishing boats were in the area since Monday.
Chinese-owned survey ships have also been conducting marine scientific research recently in the country’s exclusive economic zone without approval from government.
These survey ships were Zhanjian, which has been operating off the waters of Bicol and Eastern Visayas, and Dong Fang Hong 3, which was spotted near Ilocos, according to Ryan Martinson of the China Maritime Studies Institute.
Panelo could not say whether the President will raise the latest incursions into Philippine territory to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to China later this month.
“Before we never said anything, we just allow them and make protest but this time we will tell them ‘Please get out of our territory.’ That’s very unfriendly because we have not done it before,” he said.
He said the military may be tapped to drive away non-compliant foreign vessels.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Tuesday said he supports the President’s latest order requiring foreign ships to seek permission to transit.
“The President is in the right in directing foreign ships who will sail on our seas to ask clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage,” Recto said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Chinese appeared to be “taunting” the Philippines by deploying their warships through Philippine territorial waters with the vessels’ Automatic Identification Systems switched off and without prior notification of transit to Philippine authorities.
Lorenzana brought up the warship incursions with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua after the first incidents in February.
Also on Tuesday, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio debunked the claim made by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that Vietnam and Malaysia occupy more islands in the West Philippine Sea than China.
Cayetano earlier defended President Duterte from criticism on his stance in the WPS, saying it was during the previous administration that the country lost islands to China.
He also disagreed with the calls of Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario for Duterte to stand up against Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
But Carpio said Cayetano was mistaken in his claims since Vietnam and Malaysia do not claim waters where the Philippines has exclusive rights over resources.
“Vietnam and Malaysia don’t claim any part of the Philippine EEZ. In fact, China is the only country that claims Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said.
He said Malaysia occupies five features in the WPS, Vietnam 21, China eight, including Scarborough Shoal (nine if Sandy Cay is included) and the Philippines nine.
“More importantly, China claims 80 percent of the Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea,” the Carpio said.
Carpio has been critical of Duterte’s strategy in the WPS saying that the government should protest Chinese activities inside the country’s EEZ and territorial waters and to use the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration to press the case against Beijing.
The arbitral ruling invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, including parts of the WPS, under its nine-dash line theory.
China refused to honor the July 12, 2016 Arbitral Award, insisting on bilateral negotiations to resolve the maritime territorial dispute.
Duterte said he will finally raise the 2016 ruling when he visits Beijing later this month. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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