Locsin orders ‘explicit’ diplomatic protest for Chinese warships spotted in Tawi-Tawi

Melissa Luz Lopez, CNN Philippines

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, Jr. on Monday ordered the filing of a fresh diplomatic protest against China, this time for five Chinese warships spotted off Sibutu Strait in Tawi-Tawi.

In a tweet, the top diplomat instructed the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to lodge a protest against Beijing after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that Chinese warships were seen passing through waters off southern Mindanao without informing local authorities.

“Fire diplomatic protest over Chinese warship; drop the diplomatic crap; say it is ours period; they’re trespassing,” Locsin said in a tweet. “If we did it already, fire another. We won’t run out.”

Lt. Gen Cirilito Sobejana, AFP Western Mindanao Command chief, said two warships were spotted in Sibutu Strait in July and another three in August.

The Sibutu Strait is an internationally-recognized sea lane where foreign ships enjoy the right of innocent passage. Although the vessels were not hostile, Sobejana argued the recent Chinese incursions in Philippine waters are not innocent passage due to the curved path they took.

Locsin wanted swift action, telling the DFA not to wait for formal intelligence reports: “Fire at will.”

During a briefing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Locsin said he wanted the fresh protests to be “explicit” and told the DFA to drop the diplomatic language to express their dismay about the repeated cases of illegal passage off Philippine waters.

The DFA said it has previously lodged a diplomatic protest over these sightings. In June, Chinese Navy vessels transited across Balabac Strait in Palawan.

In a separate briefing Monday in Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that members of the Cabinet may decide to discuss the series of Chinese warships passing through Philippine waters, but clarified that such talks will have to be brought up by Lorenzana.

Meanwhile, Locsin added that the DFA will enforce stamped visas on Chinese nationals’ passports that bear the nine-dash line map used by the Mainland for its sweeping claims in the South China Sea, even after an international tribunal invalidated this in 2016.

“Our stamp shows the full extent of the Philippines’ claims, the EEZ (exclusive economic zone). I don’t want to mention it now and get all embassies angry, but it has the farthest extent of Philippine claims to territory and we stamp that on top of the nine-dash line,” Locsin said. “If they want to avoid getting that stamp, don’t come to my country. That’s all we can do for now.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the DFA’s proposal, which reverses a 2012 order which required Philippine visa stamps to be placed on a piece of paper, rather than the passport itself, in an effort to invalidate China’s territorial claims expressed in the image printed on their passports.

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