MANILA, Philippines — Chinese warships have been recently spotted passing through unannounced within Philippine territorial waters, the military said Wednesday.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said two Chinese warships were spotted in Sibutu Strait by the Philippine Navy on separate occasions in July and three more in August.
“It was not an innocent passage kasi ang innocent passage straight line lang ‘yun. ‘Pag medyo nag-kurba that is no longer considered an innocent passage,” he said.
Sibutu Strait is an international waterway located near Tawi-Tawi that is within the Philippines’ archipelagic and territorial waters.
The Chinese warships presumably changed course when it observed the Philippine military’s presence.
“Since nakita ‘yung presence natin agad naman silang umiwas, lumabas sa teritoryo ng ating bansa,” he added.
The warships have turned off their automatic identification systems on all occasions and they could not also be contacted through radio, Sobejana said.
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“These are warships, their entry to our territory should be coordinated so we informed the national leadership,” he added.
This announcement from the military came after a series of reports on the similarly unannounced presence of Chinese warships and survey ships within the Philippine waters.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last month that Chinese warships have passed through Sibutu Strait four times since February.
He said that foreign commercial ships have the right of innocent passage when passing through the country’s territorial waters, while foreign warships should notify Philippine authorities beforehand.
The Western Command also said last week that four Chinese warships, including its aircraft carrier Liaoning, passed through the vicinity waters of Balabac town in Palawan in June without informing Philippine authorities.
Last week, the Philippine government protested the unauthorized presence of two Chinese survey ships within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
It is also protesting the presence of more than 100 Chinese vessels on Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.