By Manuel Mogato

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (PHILIPPINE INFORMATION AGENCY)

The Philippines has asked China to provide prior information on the passage of its warships near the country’s territorial waters in the future to avoid a potential diplomatic row, after reports Beijing’s aircraft carrier battle group was sighted in the southern waters, the defense secretary said on Thursday.

Delfin Lorenzana also told reporters after a coast guard ceremony at the Manila South Harbor that China has not occupied any new features in the South China Sea, denying claims made by a Supreme Court associate justice that Beijing seized control of Sandy Cay near the Philippine-held Pagasa (Thitu) island.

“I asked him very frankly if indeed Liaoning passed through Sibuto and he said ‘no,'” Lorenzana said, referring to China’s ambassador Zhao Jianhua whom he met on Monday during the opening of Congress.

Lorenzana said the Chinese ambassador denied the aircraft carrier was in the area, although the envoy mentioned that there were other Chinese warships in that area. Zhao also promised to inform the Philippine government in the future about the presence of any Chinese warship near its territorial waters.

“In the future they will require those ships to inform the embassy, the Chinese embassy here in Manila, and they will inform us,” he added.

Asked about reports Chinese warships passed by Sibutu Passage in Tawi-Tawi, Palace spokesman Salvador declined to comment.

“I will leave that to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. That’s his turf,” he told reporters.

China and the Philippines are locked in a maritime dispute over some features in the South China Sea, believed to have vast deposits of energy and rich fishing grounds. Brunei. Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims in the strategic waterway where $3 trillion worth of seaborne goods pass annually.

China has built artificial islands in the South China Sea, expanding the seven features it has been occupying since the late 1980s into huge air and naval bases, effectively controlling the air and sea lanes by deploying hundreds of warships, coast guard and militia vessels.

Lorenzana also allayed fears the Philippines lost another important territory in the Spratly after Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said China had occupied Sandy Cay, a group of sand bars between Chinese-occupied Subi Reef and the Philippines’ largest occupied island, Pagasa.

“No, it’s not true, it’s still there,” Lorenzana said  “Nobody is occupying it. Its within sight of our Pag-asa Island. We can see it (from Pag-asa island)…Its too close to our Pag-asa and they (Sandy Cay) are not occupied by anybody. Its near our island, Pag-asa,” he said.

Lorenzana was at South Harbor as guest of honor and speaker during the turnover and blessing of a newly acquired 4×4 pick-up trailer hitch ball and mount, 73 rubber boats with outboard motor, 12 rigid hull inflatable boats with outboard motor, seven buses, and five fully equipped ambulances for the Coast Guard.