Lorenzana wants Duterte to bring up warship incursions during China visit
MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants President Rodrigo Duterte to bring up the illegitimate passage of Chinese warships in Philippine waters when he meets with China's President Xi Jinping later this month.
"Sana ma-mention ito para matapos na. Irritant na kasi ito ngayon e (I hope this gets mentioned to get it over with. It has now become an irritant)," Lorenzana told reporters on Friday, August 16.
Duterte will visit China for a 5th time later this month, where he said he would discuss the West Philippine Sea with Xi.
Lorenzana is joining the President on the trip.
The former army general wants to get the real score on at least 9 instances of Chinese warship sightings in the Sibutu Strait off Tawi-Tawi from February to early August.
"Where did they come from? Where are they going? Obviously they are going back to China pero ang mas malaking question, saan sila galing at bakit sila dumadaan sa Sibutu Strait (but the bigger question is, where did they come from and why were they passing Sibutu Strait)?"
If the warships were coming from the Indian Ocean, then the quickest way back to China would be through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia, and Lorenzana found it odd that they ended up in the waters of Tawi-Tawi.
Philippine military troops in Palawan monitored the passage of 4 Chinese naval vessels near Balabac Island on June 17, including one reportedly identified as the aircraft carrier Liaoning.
Lorenzana earlier said those 4 warships were spotted in Sibutu Strait between February and July, but later on told Rappler that they were the same vessels spotted near Balabac, which they would have inevitably passed on their way from Sibutu.
Then Wednesday, August 14, the military said another 5 Chinese naval vessels were spotted in Sibutu Strait in July and August.
Military officials said the warships' sail-by could not be considered "innocent passage" because they gave no prior notice to the Philippine government, and they were on a curved course, that is, they were not taking the shortest route through the strait.
Although Sibutu Strait is considered an international sea lane, it is part of the Philippines' territorial sea.
The defense chief lamented that China again neglected to give prior notice of the 5 warships' passage, especially because, according to him, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said the incident with the earlier 4 vessels would not happen again.
"Ano ba 'yung 'Huy, daraan kami, makikiraan po' (What's so difficult about saying 'Hey, we're passing through, excuse us').... Why the secrecy?" Lorenzana said.
Although he wouldn't go so far as to call the incidents "disrespectful," Lorenzana said they automatically warrant a diplomatic protest against China.
Sending Beijing a note verbale is the job of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Lorenzana said.
But he added, "Tayo sa defense, naiinis na rin tayo dahil hindi nga hindi sila nagsasabi sa 'tin (We in defense, we are getting quite pissed because they never notify us)." – Rappler.com