Palace: Unauthorized passage of Chinese warships not an act of friendship

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 15) — Malacañang on Thursday expressed concern over the passage of five more Chinese warships in Philippine waters, saying this could be the subject of another diplomatic protest.

Presidential Spokesperson Savaldor Panelo made the statement after the Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command disclosed that Beijing's warships were again spotted in Sibutu Strait, an internationally-recognized shipping lane south of Tawi-Tawi – two in July and another three in August.

The Philippines earlier protested the passage of four Chinese warships in the same strait early this year, saying local authorities were not informed.

READ: Defense chief: Passage of Chinese warships in PH waters not innocent

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

Panelo said the Palace is now awaiting the next move of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr.

"Tingan natin, basta pag may violation sa UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), we will file a diplomatic protest," he said.

He added that it is President Rodrigo Duterte's call if he will bring this incident up in his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, Panelo said. No date has been set yet for the meeting.

LOOK: PH, China officials meet for Duterte's upcoming Beijing visit

Duterte had promised to finally raise with China's leader the arbitration ruling that favors the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, and other maritime issues. Duterte has been criticized for keeping silent on the ruling and instead pursuing friendly ties with China despite the long-standing dispute.

The presence of five Beijing warships is latest in a string of incidents where Chinese vessels passed through Philippine waters, apparently without getting prior permission from local authorities. Earlier this month, the Philippines protested the presence of two Chinese survey ships. Between August 5 and 6, one of the research vessels came as close as 75 nautical miles from Siargao island, well within the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, where the Philippines has sovereign rights. Four Chinese Navy ships also transited Balabac Strait in Palawan in June, ignoring radio warnings.

Locsin earlier said diplomatic protests have been "fired off" for these incidents, as well as on the swarming of over a hundred Chinese vessels around Philippines-occupied Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

Panelo said he has not seen a copy of any diplomatic protest, but stressed that "when [Locsin] says he did that, he did that."