Gov’t warns foreign vessels in PH waters: Get clearance or leave

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 20)— The Philippines on Tuesday warned foreign vessels that they need to obtain proper clearance to pass through the country’s territorial waters —or else will be asked to leave.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered all foreign ships to notify concerned government officials of their passage in advance “to avoid misunderstanding in the future,” his spokesman Salvador Panelo relayed. The warning was issued after Chinese warships were spotted passing through Philippine waters without notifying local authorities.

"The President is putting on notice that henceforth beginning today, all foreign vessels that will be passing through our territorial waters will have to get clearance from the proper government authority way ahead in advance before the actual passage," Panelo told reporters.

“Either we get compliance in a friendly manner or we enforce it in an unfriendly manner," he added. "It means that we’ll have to stop them and tell them to move out."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin, Jr. on Monday ordered the filing of a new diplomatic protest against China after at least five Chinese warships were spotted passing through Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi without notifying Philippine authorities.

The Sibutu Strait is an internationally-recognized sea lane where foreign ships enjoy the right of innocent passage. The chief of the Western Mindanao Command, however, argued that the recent Chinese incursions could not be classified as innocent passage due to the curved path they took.

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

READ: PH to have new marine survey boats, Locsin says

Under international maritime law, a foreign ship has a right to innocent passage in a country's territorial waters as long as it does not affect the peace, good order or security of the country. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said a foreign vessel can pass through the country's territorial waters as long as its officials inform Philippine authorities about their presence.

Lorenzana labeled the chief executive's order as a "good development."

"I am still trying to figure out what unfriendly manner we can do. But that is a very good development because now we have some authority to enforce our laws within our territorial waters," Lorenzana said in a statement.

"There are so many things that we can do to be unfriendly. That's cutting their bow or escorting them. I'm going to defer to the Navy, what unfriendly method can we do," he added.

Lawmakers and critics alike have urged Duterte to raise the issue of the foreign vessels’ presence in the latter’s upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month. But Malacañang stressed the move is still up to the President.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong, David Santos, Alyssa Rola, and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.

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