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AFP tells China to ‘control its forces,’ tags laser incident as provocative act

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday called on China to control its forces following reports that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship, causing “temporary blindness” to the crew of the BRP Malapascua.

GREEN LASER LIGHT. This handout photo taken on February 6 and released by the Philippine Coast Guard on February 13 shows a Chinese Coast Guard vessel (inset) shining a “military grade laser light” at a PCG boat nearly 20 kilometers from Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea. AFP

“The Secretary of National Defense has already declared… that the act committed by the Coast Guard of China is offensive and unsafe,” a spokesperson for the AFP, Col. Medel Aguilar, said.

“Therefore, I think it is time for the Chinese government to restrain its forces so that it does not commit any provocative act that will endanger [the] lives of people,” he added.

Aguilar said this was the first time that the CCG directed a laser light at a PCG ship.

The PCG on Monday accused a CCG vessel of pointing a “military-grade” laser light at one of its vessels supporting a military rotation and resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal.

The PCG said the Chinese vessel with bow number 5205 directed a laser light at PCG vessel BRP Malapascua during a Feb. 6 rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy.

The Chinese vessel also made “dangerous maneuvers” by coming within about 140 meters of the Philippine boat, the PCG said.

The incident happened nearly 20 kilometers from Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where Philippine marines are stationed, the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.

It was the latest episode in a series of maritime incidents between the Philippines and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.

The incident also occurred days after the United States and the Philippines agreed to resume joint patrols in the sea and struck a deal to give US troops access to another four military bases in the Southeast Asian country.

The PCG patrol boat was supporting a “rotation and resupply mission” last week for the troops, who live in a derelict navy ship grounded on the shoal to assert Manila’s territorial claims.

“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel… is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,” the Philippine Coast Guard said.

Manila refers to waters immediately to its west as the West Philippine Sea.

Despite the interference, the resupply and rotation of troops at Second Thomas Shoal were successful, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armando Balilo said.

Privately owned vessels are normally used to carry supplies, with the coast guard accompanying them.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels also blockaded the Philippines-garrisoned shoal in August to stop government ships from reaching the troops, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed in January to set up direct communication between their foreign ministries to avoid “miscommunication” in the area.

It is not known if the hotline was used in the latest incident.

The US-Philippine deal earlier this month brings to nine the total number of Philippine bases accessible to US forces.

It comes as the longtime allies seek to counter China’s military rise in the region.

Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea.

In reaction, Senator Risa Hontiveros said if the Chinese government wants to show true leadership in the region, it should act responsibly, and restrain any behavior by its coast guard, navy, and maritime militia that might further inflame the situation in the West Philippine Sea.

She added that China was only getting more brazen by the day.

The senator also slammed as illegal their presence in the West Philippine Sea.

“This is why our Navy and Coast Guard forces have my full support as they implement proper countermeasures against the repeated unjust and violent operations of Chinese elements in the country’s maritime zones,” she said.

Senator Imee Marcos suggested on Monday to revive the Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) Program initiated in 1974 by her father, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

Senator Marcos made the statement after a consultation over the weekend with the Western Mindanao Command about the idea of reviving the SRDP. which she said enabled the country’s self-reliance in national defense.

“Scale down our dependence on foreign goodwill in the sticky web of geopolitics,” Marcos said in her statement.

“Thailand now customizes rifles that are slimmer and lighter for its soldiers, while Vietnam can now manufacture anti-surface warfare missiles. How far have we gone?” she added.

During its time, Sen. Marcos recalled the country’s SRDP was already producing M-16 rifles under license, steel helmets, hand grenades and other ammunition, handheld radios, and Jiffy jeeps.

“It also created jobs and minimized foreign spending. There’s no question about Filipino capability, but we must revive the SRDP now,” the senator said. With AFP

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