By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte still trusts China despite the lingering maritime conflict in the South China Sea, Malacañang said Monday.
“The President still trusts them,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo during a Palace press briefing.
Panelo, however, said they would ask the Department of National Defense (DND) to verify the reported increased presence of Chinese ships near territories in the West Philippine Sea.
The Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) earlier reported that several Chinese Coast Guard vessels were sailing near the Ayungin and Panatag Shoals after broadcasting their automatic identification signals.
“We will ask to validate that claim or that observation…from the defense department,” Panelo said.
He admitted that a diplomatic protest will be lodged if the foreign ship presence in local waters is proven true.
“Assuming that it’s true. Iba-validate pa nga natin eh. Then if that is validated, then we file the usual diplomatic protest,” Panelo said.
Asked about the efficacy of diplomatic protests against China, Panelo pointed out that there was a reduction of foreign vessels in the disputed territory after Manila protested their presence. He claimed that China attributed the increased number of vessels in the disputed territory to the “fishing season.”
“After that, wala ka nang makita – isa, dalawa na lang [After that, you can hardly see anything, only one or two],” he said.
Last August, President Duterte has required all foreign ships to seek permission from the Philippine government before passing through local waters. The government has warned it would enforce the order “in an unfriendly manner” if a ship trespasses local territory.
Foreign ships have also been asked to keep their identification systems turned on while passing through the country’s waters for proper monitoring by the government.
The latest government move comes amid concerns over the unannounced passage of Chinese warships through the local waters in recent months.