The Western Command (WESCOM) disclosed Monday that they spotted four Chinese Navy warships passing through Balabac Strait in June this year.
WESCOM commander Vice Admiral Rene Medina said in a regular briefing with the local media that the first sighting on June 17 was around 1:30 p.m. and the second was at 7:54 p.m.
The first Chinese Navy ship did not respond to the radio calls made by their operating units, he said.
The second ship responded, but the information it gave was limited. It only gave its bow number, Medina explained.
“The vessel responded to the radio challenge, but it did not disclose any information except its bow number. Further, the said vessel was also complemented by two other unresponsive navy ships,” Medina said.
He said all information about the sightings were immediately reported to their higher headquarters “for appropriate action.”
“We have already reported the sightings to our higher headquarters. The reports were also our basis for recommending to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest. We are glad that the higher headquarters and the DFA were cognizant of these reports and have taken action,” Medina said.
Asked if the presence of the Chinese Navy ships in Balabac waters was due to the ongoing construction of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) base in Barangay Catagupan, Medina said he believes it is not because of it.
“’Yong passing nila ay parang galing sila sa activity sa South. Alam naman natin na walang dadaanan or else dadaan sila doon sa Western part na napakalayo. We believe that this is not because of the airbase construction. Hindi siya dahil sa construction ng runway. We believe it is a normal passing through vessel coming from the South. Dumaan lang sila pero ang sa atin sana ay nagsasabi din sila if they really consider us as their friend — we will also consider them as a friend,” Medina added.
On July 31, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the government filed a diplomatic protest against China over the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the protest is based on the 113 Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa Island in February and July.
Medina also confirmed that during the first half of July, Chinese ships stationed in the sandbars near Pag-asa Island have reached around 140 but due to typhoon Falcon from July 15 to 19, their numbers went down to only three.
The number, however, increased again after the typhoon to as many as 115 Chinese fishing vessels.
“I have submitted a report to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) and also recommended for our government to inquire from the Chinese Embassy on why there is an increasing number of Chinese vessels idly staying in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island,” he said.