Chinese warships that entered PH territory not hostile, says Westmincom chief
ZAMBOANGA CITY – Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief said the Chinese warships that entered into Philippine territory last July and this month never showed any hostility to the country’s security forces.
Sobejana told the Inquirer that based on their observation, the Chinese warships “were not hostile and there were no indications of their being hostile.”
“Our presumption was, perhaps it was part of their security patrol, nag-overshoot lang sa kanilang territory (They may have overshoot from their territory),” Sobejana said.
China has asserted the validity of its nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, which was debunked by a 2016 ruling of the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal that it refused to acknowledge.
The nine-dash line encompasses waters within the exclusive economic zone of the country as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The warships were spotted at Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi province, “entering into the territorial waters of our country without any coordination or advance notification,” Sobejana said.
Initially, Sobejana said their troops in Tawi-Tawi challenged the warships by calling their attention.
“Unfortunately, they did not answer. When we checked the automatic information system, this was turned off,” he added.
Sobejana said he ordered the deployment of air and naval assets to check closely on the boats.
“Upon notice of our air and naval assets, the Chinese warships changed course, away from the Philippine waters,” he further said.
Sobejana disclosed that the presence of the Chinese warships in Philippine territorial waters was recorded twice in July and thrice in August.
“We have visuals of them, sighted with naked eyes and these five warships are different types, based on bow numbers,” Sobejana said in an interview.
The bow numbers are 195, 536, 964, 998, and 853.
The one numbered 853 was categorized as a Chinese-flagged surveillance ship, Sobejana added.
Sobejana said these are all warships. “Any boat that is armed is a warship.”
Sobejana said Sibutu Strait is not open for passage by any military ship from other countries, unless with prior coordination./lzb
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