MANILA - The Philippine Navy has a “very small capability” to respond to intrusions to the country’s territorial waters, especially the West Philippine Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday as he presented the country's defense budget to lawmakers.
The Department of National Defense is seeking a P29-billion budget for the Navy in 2020, up 4.3 percent from its current P27.84-billion funding this year, according to the agency's data presented to members of the House Appropriations Committee.
"Currently, we have very small capability to react to this intrusion. First, our territorial sea is so vast and we have very few equipment, but intrusion that was in the news recently is in the Sibutu Strait and that can easily be guarded," Lorenzana told lawmakers.
Last month, several Chinese vessels were seen passing through the Sibutu Strait in Mindanao, but the Navy only began to prepare protocols for unauthorized intrusions last week after President Duterte said that foreign vessels need permission from the government before they can pass through Philippine waters, Lorenzana said.
Prior to Duterte's statement, the Navy had no basis to accost the Chinese ship, the Defense chief said.
"Before we do not have any basis to accost them, to accost these ships but recently, when the President pronounced that they have to ask permission, we now have basis to accost them," Lorenzana said.
"The Navy is already making the SOPs (standard operating procedure) to do whenever there is unauthorized intrusion," he added.
Aside from Chinese vessels, ships from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Japan also passed through Philippine waters recently, he said.
The US gave the Philippine Navy a heads up even if Manila's traditional ally Washington does not need to seek permission, Lorenzana said.
Last week, Manila filed a diplomatic protest against the passage of Chinese warships in Philippine waters without consent from the Filipino government.