At least 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia and coast guard vessels were spotted by a local airship flying near Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Wednesday.
PCG spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said photos from its Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) flight confirmed the continued presence of the Chinese ships within the country’s maritime domain.
The PCG also received radio challenges both in English and Chinese from the Chinese Coast Guard when its MDA aircraft entered Sabina Shoal’s airspace, Tarriela added.
“While over Sabina Shoal, PCG Cessna Caravan 2081 observed at least twenty-six (26) suspected Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels anchored in and around the vicinity of the shoal. CCG-5304 maintained a constant close distance of not more than one (1) nautical mile from BRP Sierra Madre,” the PCG said.
The Ayungin (or Second Thomas) Shoal is located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan but is likewise near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) reportedly occupied by China.
The PCG said they ordered China Coast Guard 5304 to leave the area in response to a Chinese and English radio challenge from the Chinese ship, highlighting that the MDA is being conducted over the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.
This developed a day after Tarriela said in an interview on CNN Philippines that the PCG plans to include laser technology in its revised rules on the use of force after the February 6 laser-pointing incident in Ayungin Shoal involving the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG).
Tarriela said the inclusion of lasers in PCG’s rules needs the approval of the National Task Force WPS (NTF-WPS), which is chaired by the National Security Adviser—currently Secretary Eduardo Ano—and counts undersecretaries from 16 government departments and agencies as members.
Ano, a former Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Interior Secretary under the Duterte administration, or the task force have yet to comment on the issue as of press time.
Last week, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian and told him “close friends do not use military-grade lasers against each other,” referring to the incident in which a Chinese coast guard vessel aimed a supposed military-grade laser at a
PCG ship carrying out a resupply mission in Ayungin.
The crew of BRP Malapascua said they suffered temporary blindness.
China denied pointing military-grade lasers at the PCG ship, as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the Chinese Coast Guard only used a “hand-held greenlight pointer” to measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel.
The PCG is also planning joint patrols with the US Coast Guard, in line with the freedom of navigation efforts of the United States in the South China Sea.
Tarriela said the joint patrols would gain cooperation among other countries in the region and would benefit the vessels that are passing through the area (see related story on A1 – Editors).
The PH Coast Guard also hopes to modernize and increase its assets, as it only has three offshore patrol vessels when it needs about 20 to cover the country’s entire maritime area.
The Philippines should keep pushing back against Chinese aggression in the WPS to regain ground lost because of the previous administration’s policy of appeasement, a maritime expert said Monday.
In an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel, Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the Marcos administration has been more open and transparent on developments in the West Philippine Sea.
At a high-level security conference in Germany, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said harassment by the Chinese has become adaily situation faced by Filipino fishers and the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.
At a roundtable discussion in Munich over the weekend, Manalo said thePhilippines was determined to address the territorial dispute through peaceful and legal means.
He said the daily incidents of harassment that Filipinos experience inthe South China Sea as well as land reclamation activities have deprived the Philippines of the use of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Foreign Affairs chief also said he recognized the complexity of the country’s relations with China.
In his speech before the Munich conference, Manalo said the “very strong links” of the Philippines—as well as other countries in the region—with China on the economic and cultural fronts create a more complex situation.
“We have this issue on the South China Sea with China, but at the same time we’ve also agreed with China that this issue is not going to be the sum total of our relationship,” he said.