'Not an act of friendship,' says Panelo on Chinese ships in Sibutu Strait

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang expressed concern over the passage of Chinese warships in Sibutu Strait without the permission of the Philippine government.

Such an act, said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, is not something a real friend would do.

"We express concern with that kind of incident because, if they keep saying we are friends, I don't think this is an act of friendship," said Panelo on Thursday, August 15, in a Palace news briefing.

He echoed sentiments of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who had previously slammed China's "take over" of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as "bullying."

"With respect to what Secretary Lorenzana said that when you drive away fishermen from our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), I agree with him when he says that's bullying," said Panelo.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has also described as "deception" the passage of Chinese warships through Sibutu Strait with their automatic identification systems (AIS) switched off.

The Duterte spokesman said he might raise the issue of the warships with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua. The envoy, said Panelo, had recently invited him to a "working dinner."

But Panelo was unable to present any alternative plan of the Philippine government to stop Chinese ships from violating international maritime rights in Philippine waters.

He only said that the warships' passage may be the subject of another diplomatic protest to be filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The DFA says it recently filed 3 diplomatic protests on the passage of Chinese survey ships and warships in the Philippines' EEZ, swarming of Chinese ships around Pag-asa Island, and the ramming by a Chinese vessel of a Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank. 

Critics said the mere filing of these diplomatic protests has been ineffective in countering China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Experts like former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio have suggested other ways to assert Philippine rights – including rallying support in the United Nations for the historic Hague ruling.

Duterte plans to go to China at the end of August to discuss the West Philippine Sea issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Panelo was unable to give an exact date for the visit. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.