President Rodrigo Duterte (MNS Photo)

MANILA, July 20 (Mabuhay) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the mended relationship between the Philippines and China has made it “very easy” to ask Chinese ships to leave Philippine waters.

Duterte’s statement came after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a meeting held in Davao City on Monday night, reported that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recently drove away a Chinese naval warship spotted sailing within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

During the meeting, Roque told Duterte that the Chinese warship left the Philippine waters because of the country’s improved ties with China.

Duterte responded: “Kaya nga (That’s true). So it’s very easy for them now to go away upon our suggestion.”

The PGC earlier reported that BRP Cabra on July 13 spotted a naval warship carrying a Chinese flag at Marie Louise Bank, which is 147 nautical miles from El Nido, Palawan.

The vessel monitored in Marie Louise Bank was Chinese Navy Warship 189, the PCG said.

The Chinese warship left the Philippines’ EEZ after the PCG vessel sent a radio challenge.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was also present at the meeting, said the Chinese ships left the Philippines’ EEZ to avoid confrontation.

“Ang suspetsa ko po ay kaya sila umalis dahil napakalapit na nila sa Palawan eh (My guess is they left because they were really near Palawan). And that is already not contested, sa atin ‘yun eh. So isa ‘yun (that that is ours. So, that’s it),” Lorenzana told Duterte.

Duterte was elated that it is now easier for the PCG to ask Chinese ships to leave Philippine waters sans trouble.

He also expressed appreciation to the Chinese vessels’ gesture of “goodwill”.

“Gusto ko lang basahin ang utak ng mga tao na ‘yan. Bakit madali silang mapaalis (I want to read their minds. Why is it much easier to drive them away)? Are they avoiding any confrontation or…?” he said. “I think ‘yan (That happened) previously twice in the past. Talagang pinaalis sila (They were told to leave) and they readily, well, agreed to the suggestion of the Coast Guard to move away from the territorial waters.”

Duterte said sending Coast Guard instead of Navy ships in the West Philippine Sea is part of the diplomatic approach to settle disputes in the area.

“Yes, historically, we never really sent any of our warships, only Coast Guard. That’s really part — Coast Guard, is part of the diplomatic. We do not send warships,” he said.

Roque expressed optimism that the PCG will be given proper recognition for a “job well done” in terms of driving away foreign vessels in the country’s EEZ.

On June 30, BRP Cabra also challenged and shooed five Chinese ships and two Vietnamese vessels from the Marie Louise Bank.

The PCG also on April 27 also drove away seven alleged Chinese maritime militia ships that were seen “nested or in stationary liner formation” at the shoal located 130 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa, Palawan and east of Ayungin Shoal.  (MNS)

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