Three Chinese Navy ships were spotted near a Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea last month, the Philippine Navy confirmed Sunday.

Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, Philippine Navy chief, confirmed the spotting after the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying it has already protested the Chinese Navy’s actions.

“Parang medyo sinubukan na i-challenge (nung ships ‘yung Navy units sa area) pero kumaripas din, umalis kaagad, then the following day bumalik,” Pama told reporters by phone.

Lieutenant Col. Omar Tonsay, Navy spokesman, said two Chinese naval vessels were spotted by monitoring operatives about 3.7 kilometers from their position at the Sabina Shoal on December 11.

Sabina Shoal, now called Escoda Shoal by the government, is approximately 113 kilometers northwest off Palawan and is within the Philippines 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

The ships were moving northward then dissapeared an our later, Tonsay said.

“The next day, another Chinese naval vessel was spotted in the same area moving northwards. As with the other two vessels, the ship flew a Chinese flag over her mast and had guns [at] her bow,” he said.

“The vessels were apparently surveying the area,” Tonsay added.

Pama said no untoward incident happened between the foreign ships and the local Navy personnel in the area, and that patrols will be maintained.

“Ganun ang nangyayari dun, (it’s a game of) cat and mouse,” he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it conveyed on January 5 its “serious concerns” over the incidents to the Chinese Embassy’s Charge d’affaires.

“These instrusions of the Chinese are clear violations of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as well as the provision of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement posted at the department’s website.

Last March, Chinese navy vessels reportedly “told off” a Philippine oil exploration team at the Reed Bank basin – now known as Recto Bank – off Palawan.

A Chinese maritime survey ship was spotted unloading tide-measuring poles at the Amy Douglas Shoal-Iroquois Reef, which is near Philippine-occupied islands, on May 21 and 24 while Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie was on a visit to Manila. (John Roson)

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