MANILA — The Philippines has protested China's incursions into the West Philippine Sea about 60 times since President Duterte assumed office in 2016, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.
These instances include 39 notes verbale to Beijing, Locsin told the House appropriations committee during a hearing on the Department of Foreign Affairs' proposed 2020 budget.
"We have filed diplomatic protests at every turn. When they tell me there is an incursion… I fire off a diplomatic protest," he said.
"I have changed the language of our diplomatic protest from the usual niceties to direct protests, no nice words anymore,” he added.
Manila's top diplomat, however, declined Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate’s request for copies of the protests, saying "those are exclusively executive communications between us."
"We only protest when it's China. We responded only to Chinese presence," he said.
Critics had earlier scored government's soft stance towards China despite its incursions in the West Philippine Sea. The administration has many times said it was taking action.
Beijing claims large parts of the South China Sea, where rich petroleum reserves are thought to sit deep beneath the waters, and through which roughly $3.4 trillion in shipping passes each year.
The Philippines calls its exclusive economic zone in the waters as the West Philippine Sea.
Five Chinese warships passed the Sibutu Strait in the Philippines' southern tip in July and August without informing local authorities, the military said.
China recently agreed to Duterte's demand for its warships to seek permission before entering the West Philippine Sea, said Locsin.
"To our surprise, China’s answer was 'That’s exactly what we want, we want to ask permission,'” he said.
Western countries, on the other hand "do not, as a matter of principle, ever ask for permission because they insist on total and absolute freedom of navigation,” he said.
Locsin said the Chinese warships that recently passed through Philippine waters turned off their automatic identification systems because they were hit by a storm.
Western navies also do this, he said, adding that they "invented stealth technology so they cannot be tracked."
Locsin also dubbed as "total fabrication" a report that Duterte was apologetic when he raised a 2016 arbitral victory that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims, during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.
"The President has, in my experience in his visits to China, always raised the arbitral award," he said, as he requested an executive session to relay what Duterte said in these instances.
Duterte's relations with China, he said, “helped create a more congenial environment for managing issues in the West Philippine Sea."
"At the same time, the Duterte administration pursued the Philippine advocacy in the West Philippine Sea by upholding before those who contest it the arbitral award defining our rights... and by pushing for the full and effective implementation of the declaration of the conduct of parties," he said.
-- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News