MANILA — Malacañang expressed concern on Thursday over a Chinese warship’s unauthorized passage through Sibutu Strait in the waters of Tawi-Tawi despite China’s assurance to maintain friendly ties with the Philippines.
“We express concern with that kind of incident. Because if they keep on saying that we’re friends, I don’t think this is an act of friendship,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
The passage of a Chinese warship in Philippine waters came following Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua’s earlier commitment that the Chinese government would seek the permission of the Philippine government first.
Panelo said if proven that there is a violation in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the government will file another diplomatic protest.
“Baka (Perhaps) it’s a violation of the UNCLOS. Violation ng UNCLOS ‘yan eh kung dumaraan sa ating EEZ (Passing through our EEZ is a violation of UNCLOS). I’m sure the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro Locsin Jr.) will do something about that,” Panelo said.
He echoed the position of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza who asked China to explain the presence of warships in Philippine waters.
“Gaya ng posisyon ng ating (Just like the position of the) Secretary of National Defense, we don’t like that. And ‘pag na-verify mo na naman ‘yun ‘di (and it has to be verified so) another subject of diplomatic protest by the DFA,” Panelo said.
He also agreed with Lorenzana that China’s consistent driving away Filipino fishermen within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) could be considered an act of “bullying.”
Asked if President Rodrigo Duterte would bring up the presence of Chinese warships in Philippine waters during his upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Panelo said it will be the chief executive’s call.
“But any issue will always be open between the two heads of state. Depende sa kanila kung anong pag-uusapan nila (It depends on what they will talk about),” he added.
Panelo, meanwhile, said he will call the attention of the Chinese government over its warships’ passage in Philippine waters when he meets Zhao for a working dinner.
“We will call their attention. We will call their attention. The Chinese Ambassador has invited me for dinner in one of these days. Maybe I will raise that to him,” Panelo said.
“I will ask him kung ano na nangyari doon (what happened there) I remember Secretary Delfin was quoting him, ‘di ba na ‘that’s wrong, we’re friends,’” he added.
Following Zhao’s recent statement that China’s position not recognizing the arbitral ruling remains unchanged, Panelo said he told Zhao via text message that the Philippine stand also remains.
Panelo, however, is hopeful that bilateral negotiations would still help resolve the sea dispute between the Philippines and China.
“Neither are we changing our position too. But it doesn’t mean that as friends, we cannot discuss that issue. It has to be discussed, that is precisely why there is a mechanism for negotiation,” Panelo said.
“There are things we can agree upon, there are differences that we may not. But that does not preclude both countries to raise that issue and discuss amicably,” he added.
Quoting the President, Panelo said nobody could stop the chief executive from saying what he wants to say.
“He will not alter his position on the matter in the same way that the Chinese government as it says will not (recognize the arbitral ruling),” Panelo said.
“What is important is, as he promised the Filipino people, he will raise that issue (arbitral ruling) at the proper time and he said, ‘This is the time,’” he added.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released its verdict on the Philippines’ arbitration case filed against China in 2013 nullifying China’s nine-dash line claims of nearly the entire West Philippine Sea or South China Sea including part of the Philippines’ EEZ.
The PCA concluded that there was “no legal basis” for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line” but China refused to recognize this
Code of conduct
President Duterte is expected to bring up the completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea when he meets Xi in Beijing this month to invoke the PCA ruling won by the Philippines against China.
Once the 10-member bloc and China conclude COC negotiations and arrive at a consensus on its content, the document will serve as a binding guideline for parties in the contested waters.
“That’s why the President—that’s what he told me pala last night. The reason among others na (that) he wants to go to China is because he wants to hasten the enactment of the Code of Conduct because it triggers incidence,” Panelo said.
“That is not or that is harmful, kaya gusto niyang makausap si (that’s why he wants to speak to) President Xi on that. Coordinator kasi si Presidente sa Asia region (The President is the coordinator of the Asia region),” he added.