The United States on Friday backed Manila’s strong protest against Beijing after Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and used water cannons against two Philippine ships on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of this escalation that directly threatens regional peace and stability, escalates regional tensions, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” the US Department of State said in a statement released by the US Embassy in the Manila.
Citing the 2016 arbitral award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines, the US emphasized that the PCA “delivered a unanimous and enduring decision firmly rejecting China’s claims to Second Thomas Shoal and to waters determined to be part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”
“China and the Philippines, pursuant to their treaty obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention, are legally bound to comply with this decision. China should not interfere with lawful Philippine activities in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.”
Malacanang, for its part, said the government will not abandon its Ayungin Shoal outpost in the West Philippine Sea and will continue to assert the country’s sovereignty.
“We will continue to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights, our jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal and all other territories within our jurisdiction including our exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said.
The Palace made the remarks after three Chinese Coast Guard vessels fired water cannons at two Philippine ships to stop them from going to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday.
The two Philippine supply ships were on their way to transport supplies to military personnel stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated navy vessel that serves as Marine outpost on the shoal within Philippine waters.
Nograles said that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has already sent a strong message to the Chinese expressing the country’s “outrage, condemnation, and protest.”
“So, we stand by the swift actions of the Department of Foreign Affairs and we are confident that the DFA will do whatever is necessary,” Nograles said.
He assured the public that the government will not abandon the military post in Ayungin shoal and will continue to deliver supplies to the military personnel in the ship, which was deliberately run aground in 1999 to assert the country's sovereignty over that part of the South China Sea.
Ayungin Shoal— which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone— is around 20 nautical miles from Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, one of the features being occupied by China in the Kalayaan Island Group that it had transformed into military outposts.
Opposition lawmakers on Friday urged the government to take a proactive stand in asserting the country's territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the Philippine government should take decisive action other than the mere filing of diplomatic protests.
"Filing of diplomatic protests or demarche, or even summoning China's ambassador to explain its continued incursions and occupation of maritime features in the West Philippine Sea may no longer be enough," Zarate said in a statement.
"Clearly, China does not accept accountability, like it even insisted recently that Julian Felipe Reef is theirs even if it is clearly part of our exclusive economic zone; worse now, this attack on supply ships in our own territory," he added.
Zarate said China has junked diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines as it continuously violates the territory of the Philippines and tramples on our sovereign rights.
Magdalo Rep. Manuel Cabochan denounced the latest Chinese activity in the disputed waters, calling it illegal.
"Ayungin Shoal is part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines. That area is clearly ours. China should not have any business there," Cabochan said.
"The Magdalo Party-List condemns in the strongest terms the continued harassment and bullying of China against Filipino soldiers and fishermen in our own waters. How many times has China—supposedly our friend—done this to us? How long will we put up with this kind of treatment within our own territory?” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Cabochan also said in a separate statement the latest incident should serve as a reminder for the government to be more assertive in protecting the country's sovereignty.
"It is obvious that China intends to force us out of our territory in the West Philippine Sea. We must not let this happen and defend what is ours according to international law," he said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the Department of Defense and the Philippine Coast Guard should come up with a plan immediately to improve the country’s presence in maritime features and areas that Manila claims.
Senator Grace Poe said the government must show immense grit and muscle to stand up to China's aggressive acts and reiterate our claim on Philippine waters.
"The situation demands that we firmly act and assert our sovereign rights in adherence to international laws amid such destabilizing action," said Poe.
She insisted China has no jurisdiction over these waters under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and has no right to harass or block boats delivering supplies to the country’s forces.
Senators Richard Gordon and Francis Tolentino condemned the illegal acts committed by the Chinese Coast Guard against two Philippine supply boats.
As commander-in-chief, he said the President should spearhead the protection of Philippine troops.
"We strongly support the statement made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. for conveying the Philippines' outrage, condemnation, and protest of this incident to the Chinese government," said Gordon.
Partido Reporma chairman and standard-bearer Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and his running mate Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the continued interference of the Chinese Coast Guard in Philippine waters is an ominous sign that should be stopped immediately.
“We are not satisfied with just filing diplomatic protests (against China). We should have an alliance with strong countries, militarily strong countries, through our existing bilateral agreements,” said Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense.
The Senate President added it is high time to revisit the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States and other foreign powers to deter China’s actions in the WPS, which the communist country claims as part of its vast nine-dash line area in the South China Sea.