By Deighton Acuin and Archie Villaflores

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Sana po lumipas na ang bad weather.”

This was what Palace spokesman Harry Roque had to say when asked what would the Philippine government do if the Chinese militia will not leave the country's territorial waters anytime soon. 

Roque made the remark after the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian explained the vessels were belonged to fishermen “seeking refuge from bad weather.”

"Ang sabi ng Tsina, nandoon lang ang kanilang mangingisda dahil they are seeking refuge from bad weather. Sana po lumipas na ang bad weather,” Roque said during his media presser on Thursday.

Moreover, Roque said there was “no controversy” since the vessels were not insisting on staying in the reef.

He added there are some areas in the West Philippine Sea that had stormy conditions.

In the spirit of friendship, we expect the ships not to remain there,” he said.

PH ‘concerned’ over presence of ships

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte told Huang the Philippines was concerned over the presence of Chinese vessels along Julian Felipe Reef and reasserted the international arbitral tribunal ruling invalidating Beijing’s claims to South China Sea.

Roque did not say when Duterte met Huang, but he announced on Tuesday that the President would talk to the Chinese ambassador about the presence of the Chinese vessels at the reef, which is well within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Roque said the face-to-face meeting was a “personal visit between two very close friends” was scheduled even before the Chinese vessels were spotted at the reef because Huang wanted to greet the President on his forthcoming birthday.

President Duterte will turn 76 on March 28.

Lorenzana’s demand

During the meeting with the representatives from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine military has conveyed the demand of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the vessels to leave the reef.

Lorenzana called the Chinese militia presence within the Philippines’ EEZ a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area.”

“China’s People’s Liberation Army representatives reiterated their government’s assurance that those ships were not manned by militia and that those were constrained to seek shelter in the area when inclement weather hampered their fishing activity,” AFP Spokesperson Major General Edgar Arevalo said.

Over the weekend, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of 220 vessels in Julian Felipe Reef and demanded their withdrawal.

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