Malacañang on Tuesday backed the order of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. banning Chinese survey ships in the country’s waters, only to withdraw his directive hours later.
In a tweet, Locsin said the country cannot ban marine surveys after all, under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea.
Locsin said he had consulted a Singaporean expert from the International Institute for Strategic Studies and learned that foreign navies enjoy freedom of navigation through the country’s exclusive economic zone, and asked Filipino maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal to “double check” the finding.
Earlier in the Palace, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Malacañang supports the position of Foreign Affairs chief to ban foreign survey ships in the country’s EEZ.
“Whatever the department says, that’s the policy of the administration, unless the President makes another policy statement,” Panelo said.
Locsin banned Chinese survey ships after Ryan Martinson, an assistant professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute of the US Naval War College, reported that Chinese-owned Zhanjian and Dong Fang Hong 3 have been conducting marine scientific research in the country’s EEZ without permission from the authorities.
The Zhanjian has been operating off the waters of Bicol and Eastern Visayas since Saturday while Dong Fang Hong 3 was spotted near Ilocos on Wednesday, Martinson said.
Under the UNCLOS, a ship conducting a scientific survey must request permission from the country that has jurisdiction over the area where the survey will take place.
The country had previously restricted France and Japan’s vessels, but Locsin added China, saying he would “universalize the ban.”
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana noted that survey ships were allowed in the country’s waters if they had asked for permission, clarified their purpose, and allowed a representative from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to board their vessel during their survey.
“I will talk to him first to find out what he really meant because we have been allowing foreign survey ships into our waters in the past,” Lorenzana told Manila Standard in a text message.
Since June, Locsin had announced the filing of at least three diplomatic protests over recent reports of Chinese vessels circling near or in Philippine waters on different occasions.