Wesmincom chief: Chinese warships did not coordinate with PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 15) — The chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) said the Chinese warships recently spotted in the country's territorial waters were not hostile, despite not having coordinated with local authorities.

Speaking to CNN Philippines New Day Thursday, Wesmincom Command Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said two warships were spotted in Sibutu Strait near Tawi-Tawi in July, and three others were there in August.

"Apparently, there was no coordination at all, that's why we reported the matter to higher headquarters so that engagements will be done by the higher authorities — with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the counterpart Chinese authorities," he said.

Sobejana said they were able to assess the ships were not hostile because they did not act in a way that "alarmed" the Armed Forces.

"When they saw us, they immediately changed direction away from our territory. So, I should say that while they did not enter into our territory, it will alarm our Armed Forces if they will do anything hostile," he said.

Because the ships were not hostile, Sobejana said their only concern was the vessels entering Philippine territory without coordination.

Sobejana added they make a call via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to ships, whether civilian or military, when they are seen entering Philippine territory.

"Unfortunately, when we saw these warships, they didn't answer our call. Nor could we recognize where they came from or where they were going because the AIS was off," he said.

Sibutu Strait is an internationally-recognized sea lane where foreign ships enjoy the right of innocent passage. However, Sobejana earlier said the recent Chinese incursions were not innocent.

"Ang innocent passage straight line lang 'yun, pagka medyo nagkurba ka [if it curved], that is no longer considered as innocent passage," he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier called out Beijing's failure to inform Manila about the passage of four Chinese warships in the same strait since February.

The military also monitored four more Chinese vessels, including ships from the Chinese Navy, transited Balabac Strait in Palawan in June.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it has lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the passage of some of these warships in Philippine waters.