Despite its aggressive behaviour in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), China will not confront Philippine civilian vessels in the hotly contested waters, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed late Monday night, July 19.
In his public address, President Duterte asked Lorenzana why it appears that Chinese vessels are easier to drive away now from the territorial waters of the country compared to the past.
Duterte asked this question after learning that BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409) of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) successfully drove away a Chinese naval warship at the Marie Louise Bank located approximately 147 nautical miles from El Nido, Palawan last July 13.
“Sa palagay ko kaya sila umalis dahil napakalapit na nila sa Palawan and it’s not contested, sa atin ‘yon (I think they left because they are too near Palawan and it’s not contested, it is ours),” Lorenzana told Duterte.
Further, Lorenzana said the PCG was only using a civilian vessel when it shooed away the naval warship.
“Ayaw nila magkaroon ng insidente dyan kasi it’s involving a naval ship. Ang gamit natin civilian ship lang ng Coast Guard (They don’t want to make an incident there because it involves a naval ship. We only have a civilian ship from the Coast Guard),” the Defense Chief stated.
“Iyan ang dahilan kaya ayaw nila magconfrontation kaya umaalis na lang sila (That is the reason why they don’t want to have a confrontation so they just chose to leave),” he added.
According to the PCG, the personnel of the BRP Cabra were on their way to Palawan after conducting a maritime patrol in the WPS when they spotted a naval warship with a Chinese flag and Chinese markings.
The PCG ship then issued a radio challenge against the Chinese naval warship, which then left the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China’s activities in the WPS have been more frequent in recent months with authorities even monitoring over 220 vessels near Recto Bank in March.
However, it came as a surprise for Duterte that authorities managed to drive away Chinese vessels lurking within the country’s EEZ. “It’s very easy for them to go away upon our suggestion,” he said.
“Are they avoiding a confrontation o parang goodwill (or was it an act of goodwill)?” he wondered.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims in the WPS, in effect invalidating China’s expansive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.