MANILA - It is important for President Rodrigo Duterte to raise with his Chinese counterpart the maritime surveys being conducted by Beijing in Philippine waters without consent from Manila.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this Saturday, in the wake of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's statements Friday hitting the secrecy of the passage of 9 Chinese warships through the Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi this year.
Duterte is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing later this month.
“That’s the call of the president whether he wants to raise that with President Xi, but I suppose taking that up would also be important,” Panelo told reporters on the sidelines of a Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry event in Quezon City.
“The incident has been repeatedly done and therefore has become an irritant,” he said, noting that Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is expected to issue a diplomatic protest over the “intrusions.”
“We have to know exactly why they are passing through the strait when the shortest route going back to China can be done through a different route,” Panelo said. “We want to know really bakit ba doon dumadaan (why are they passing through there)?”
The reported intrusions in Philippine waters come amid still unresolved disputes between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Beijing has been claiming nearly the entire South China Sea, saying their ancestors were the first fisherfolk to sail to the islands in the strategic waterway where nearly $5.3-trillion worth of seaborne-goods pass annually.
In 2016, an international arbitration court invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims, and said that oil-rich Recto (Reed) Bank was part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China refused to recognize the ruling and continued to reclaim and militarize islands in the disputed body of water.
The Philippines has also complained of the presence of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
In the first half of his presidency, Duterte shelved the favorable ruling as he forged closer ties with the world’s second largest economy to fund his massive infrastructure campaign.
Earlier this month, Duterte said he would invoke the Philippines’ maritime win in an international tribunal during his upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.