AFP official: Warships were 'trespassing'; their actions not of a 'good neighbor'
MANILA (UPDATED) —Chinese warships sailing unannounced in Philippine waters this year have been classified as "security threats," a military official said Thursday.
“It is a security threat. It is a security challenge that we need to face and we need to address,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
Arevalo mentioned the 5 Chinese warships sighted in Sibuti Strait, Tawi-Tawi, 3 of which were spotted this August and 2 in July.
“We don’t know exactly what they are doing, if they are conducting research or surveillance,” said Arevalo, saying the AFP did not believe the Chinese were doing innocent passage.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), any foreign vessel may be allowed to cross a coastal state’s territorial waters without notifying the coastal state if they are conducting innocent passage, or movement in a straight path heading back out to sea, essentially just passing through.
The military official said the warships "switched off their automatic identification system,” which should have allowed Philippine authorities to identify their origin, names, and design.
Arevalo revealed the Chinese vessels did not respond to radio calls made by the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), a protocol for all seafaring vessels.
“Meron tayong communication through radio, whereby we can challenge ’yung presence ng isang barko for her to identify herself,” Arevalo said.
“The information that we got was that they were challenged but they did not respond.”
This prompted the Wesmincom to deploy air assets over the vessels, which promptly returned to a straight outward path when it spotted Philippine authorities.
“In a manner, we have established our sovereignty and authority by flying over them and making our presence known,” Arevalo said.
He said the AFP is deliberating whether maritime patrols in waters where Chinese warships often pass through should be increased.
The AFP said it has submitted its reports to the Department of National Defense for transmission to the top country officials.
“We make appropriate reports to our political leaders, specifically to the President, and to the Secretary of the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), through the Secretary of National Defense, for them to make these findings as basis for actions that they can take,” Arevalo said.
He described the Chinese warships' actions as “trespassing” and far from the actions of a “friend,” which the Chinese government often projects to the Philippines.
“It could be considered in a sense na trespassing. Parang bakuran ng ating tahanan, bago may makikiraan, innocently mang kailangang dumaan, kailangang magpapasintabi din dun sa may-ari ng bahay,” Arevalo said.
“They did not perform or they did not act in accord with that of a good neighbor and good friend.”