Chinese warships have been passing through territorial waters claimed by the Philippines since February, news reports quoted Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as saying. The bigger news is that the Philippines were not informed of their transit.

In a sign of the paranoia that China's expansive claims on islands in the South China sea have induced in the country, Lorenzana also rejected the claim made by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that the Philippines had lost an island named “Sandy Cay" to the Chinese.

Lorenzana's comments were reported by local news site, but he was probably referring to “Sand Cay’ because Sandy Cay is another small island south of Palawan near Indonesia in the Sulu Sea that is not part of the Philippines. Sand Cay is located near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea [Editor's note: there is another Philippine Island also named Sand Cay located close to the Philippines in the Sulu Sea.]

The Chinese warships passed through the Sibutu Straight that separates the southernmost Philippine islands of Palawan and Tawi-Tawi from Indonesia. It is the entryway into the Sulu Sea from the South China Sea. In a video from DZMM, Lorenzana said, “They should inform us that they will pass through, but they did not."  

A conversation in Manila  between Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua and Lorenzana during last week’s State of the Nation Address resulted in Zhao saying “… in the future, we will require those ships to inform the Chinese Embassy in Manila about intended passage in Sibutu and then inform us.”

Lorenzana went on to clarify that because of the “virtue of the principle of innocent passage” commercial shipping vessels would not need Philippine permission.

Chinese Aircraft Carrier China’s First Home-Built Aircraft Carrier Could Start Sea Trials Soon. The Type 001A, China's second aircraft carrier, is transferred from the dry dock into the water during a launch ceremony at Dalian shipyard in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, April 26, 2017. Photo: Photo:Getty images/STR/AFP

The control of Sand Cay dates to 2017 when an effort to build shelters for fishermen by the Philippine military was halted by the Chinese. They claimed that an agreement not to occupy new features was in effect. It was reported to the Western Command in March that Chinese militia vessels stay in the “vicinity of the sandbars” near Pag-asa “to sustain their assertive presence.”

That “assertive presence” may be why Filipino fisherman are being driven away from the sandbars by the Chinese, according to Kalayaan Mayor Roberto del Mundo. Opinion is still divided as to who really controls Sand Cay but another voice on this issue is from former Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano who stated last year that China effectively controls the area.

Any Chinese activity in Asian waters is being closely monitored due to several events of Chinese aggressive behavior including the sinking of a Philippine fishing vessel six weeks ago.