MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive warning foreign vessels that enter Philippine territorial waters without prior clearance from the government.
In particular, Lorenzana liked that the Commander-in-Chief of the country’s security forces gave license to resort to an “unfriendly manner” of getting foreign vessels to comply with Philippine laws if necessary.
“I am still trying to figure out what unfriendly manner we can do. But that is a very good development because now we have some authority to enforce our laws within our territorial waters,” Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of the welcome ceremony for the Philippine Navy’s new corvette, the BRP Conrado Yap, at the Manila South Harbor on Tuesday, August 20.
Earlier on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo relayed to reporters a directive from Duterte:
“To avoid misunderstanding in the future, the President is putting on notice that beginning today, all foreign vessels passing our territorial waters must notify and get clearance from the proper government authority well in advance of the actual passage.”
“Either we get compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner,” Panelo added.
Lorenzana could not yet say exactly what “unfriendly manner” may be used to ward off foreign vessels, especially warships, that venture unauthorized into the country’s territorial waters, or within 12 nautical miles of any of its island’s shores.
“There are so many things kasi you can do to be unfriendly. That’s cutting their bow, or escorting them. I am going to defer to the Navy on what unfriendly method can we do,” Lorenzana said, adding, “I am kasi an Army guy, I do not know about maritime.”
Lorenzana was a retired Army general heading the Office of Veteran Affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. before his appointment as Defense Secretary by Duterte in 2016.
Asked why he has recently been more openly critical of China’s behavior in the West Philippine Sea and in the Sulu Sea, Lorenzana cited the series of Chinese warship incursions reported by the military.
“It’s because the frequency has increased also. So it is very alarming also why so many navy ships of the Chinese are passing through Sibutu Strait. My question is, where are they coming from? Hindi natin alam eh. (We don’t know) And where are they going?”
“Maybe if they are passing through Sibutu Strait towards the north, then obviously you can infer that they are going back to China. Pero ang tanong 'dun, saan siya nanggaling? Bakit ang dami nila? There was one instance na apat na ships 'yung dumaan 'dun eh, at one time. (But the question is, where did they come from? Why so many of them? There was one instance when 4 ships passed there at one time).” Lorenzana said.
In all 13 instances monitored from February to August, the Chinese vessels did not give prior notice or seek diplomatic clearance from Philippine authorities. They also ignored radio communications from Philippine patrols. (READ: Philippines files diplomatic protest vs China over warships in EEZ)
Although foreign vessels are afforded the right of innocent passage in Sibutu Strait, the Philippine government requires warships to give prior notice of their passage, as is customary among most coastal states, including China itself.
“Nakakaalarma lang kasi before, wala namang ganu’n eh. (It’s just alarming because before, there wasn’t any of that.) Seldom we saw them there,” Lorenzana added. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.