Malacañang, miffed by the unflagging passing of Chinese warships through Sibutu near the Philippines’ southernmost province Tawi-Tawi without clearance from the Philippines, wants to know the reason for the ceaseless crossing.
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Sibutu Passage, a deep channel some 29 km wide that separates Borneo from the Sulu Archipelago, has a deep sill allowing entry of deep water into the Sulu basin while connecting the Sulu Sea with the Sulawesi Sea that feeds from the Pacific Ocean by the Mindanao Current.
Military sources noted that Sibutu, which is only 1,103 kilometers from Manila, is 3,915 kilometers from Beijing.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had described the recent movement of Chinese vessels through Sibutu, as reported by the Western Mindanao Command, as an “irritant.”
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo himself told a weekend media forum: “We want to know why [the Chinese warships] are passing through [Sibutu].”
But he could not ascertain if President Rodrigo Duterte, who would be meeting up with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month, would raise the issue regarding the Chinese warships incursion.
“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.
On Thursday, Malacañang expressed its concern over the military’s report that five more Chinese warships sailed in Philippine waters of the Sibutu Strait without informing Manila, saying it was not “an act of friendship.”
Panelo at that time said the actions of the Chinese warships might 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.”
Panelo, however, said Duterte would raise the issue on the landmark ruling on the South China Sea when he meets up with Xi later this month.
But Panelo said Duterte would not provoke China in invoking the arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing’s expansive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.
“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 Aug. 6.
The President sought to raise the ruling given that he only had three years left in his term.
The Palace said that Duterte would also 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.
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