DFA, PCG rip ‘illegal actions’ but China blames ‘provocative’ local ships
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday declared that the Philippine government will not back down from what it described as “intrusions” and “illegal actions” in the West Philippine Sea after a Chinese coast guard ship caused a near-collision with a Philippine Coast Guard vessel on Sunday.
But China said Friday that the near-collision was caused by the Philippine ship’s “premeditated and provocative action.”
The near-miss off the Spratly Islands on Sunday was the latest in a steady string of incidents between China and the Philippines in the contested waterway.
The PCG said on Friday it was seeking international condemnation of the latest swarming of Chinese militia ships near Julian Felipe Reef,which is part of the West Philippine Sea.
The Coast Guard earlier said that more than 100 Chinese militia shipsfrom April 18 to 24 swarmed several areas in the West Philippine Sea and ignored Filipino authorities who told them to leave.
The PCG said it deployed two vessels to patrol the waterway from April 18 to 24, during which it spotted more than 100 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels near Julian Felipe Reef.
“The PCG vessels deployed their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) todisperse the large CMM gathering. However, no CMM vessels reacted ormade any attempts to vacate the area,” the coast guard said in a statement.
Eighteen Chinese militia ships were also detected near Sabina Shoal,which “did not respond or comply with the order to leave the area immediately,” the PCG said.
Four other Chinese ships which appeared to be engaged in fishing activities “were successfully driven away by the PCG vessels from the territorial sea of Pag-asa, at a distance of 4 nautical miles,” the coast guard added.
DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said an investigation into the near collision between the Philippine and Chinese vessels is already ongoing and appropriate diplomatic action will then be taken.
On Sunday, a larger Chinese Coast Guard vessel blocked a PCG vesselcarrying journalists in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal, which islocated in internationally recognized Philippine waters. The two vessels would have collided had the commanding officer of the PCG vessel not stopped his ship.
With a strengthened Philippine-US military alliance that came in response to China’s aggression in the waters, the DFA official expressed belief that Marcos would raise to President Joe Biden intheir upcoming meeting that the Philippines is counting on the “great powers” to calm the waters.
“We want the waters to be a sea of peace. We are also very wary of a possible miscalculation or further escalation of tensions in the region,” she said.
However, Daza clarified that the Philippines will always uphold its sovereignty and safeguard its sovereign rights and interests in the South China Sea, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.
“We will do this through diplomacy, military law enforcement and public diplomatic action,” Daza said.
Fighting for Philippine interests has always been the directive of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as far as the West Philippine Sea is concerned, she said.
“If there are intrusions, if there are illegal actions that are undertaken in our waters, we [take] the necessary action,” she said.
“And from our perspective, that would mean appropriate diplomatic actions, whether it be in terms of the issuance of note verbales or if necessary, a clarification or a meeting with concerned parties,” Daza added.
The incident happened after Philippine coast guard boats approached Second Thomas Shoal. As one boat neared the shoal, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel more than twice its size sailed into its path.
Journalists from the Agence France-Presse watched the incident from another Philippine coast guard boat, which was less than a kilometer away.
The Philippine captain said the Chinese ship came within 45 meters of his boat and only his quick actions avoided the steel-hulled vessels crashing into each other.
Asked about the incident on Friday at a regular press briefing, the Chinese foreign ministry said the Philippine boats had “intruded” without China’s permission.
“The Chinese coast guard vessel safeguarded China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order, in accordance with the law, while taking timely measures to avoid the dangerous approach of Philippine vessels and to avoid a collision,” said spokeswoman Mao Ning.
“It was a premeditated and provocative action for the Philippine vessel to barge into the waters of Ren’ai Jiao with journalists on board, the aim was to deliberately find fault and take the opportunity to hype up the incident,” she added.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
The DFA called on China to respect Philippine rights over the West Philippine Sea and honor the freedom of navigation in the contested waterway.
According to Daza, similar incidents were also documented on April 19 being committed by China’s CCG 5201 and 4202 against the Philippines BRP Malapascua en route to Ayungin Shoal.
“First of all, I would like to emphasize that the Philippines has the legal right to carry out routine maritime patrols in our territorial waters and EEZ (exclusive economic zone). The deployment of the BRPMalabrigo and BRP Malapascua in the West Philippine Sea from April 18 to 24 was one such mission,” she said.
Daza added that the interference committed by China’s Coast Guard with the routine patrol “was totally inconsistent with freedom of navigation.”
“A number of documented incidents also involved highly dangerous maneuvers that were contrary to standard navigational practices,” she said.
China is bound to honor the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as it is a signatory of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, she added.
The pact obliges China and other signatories from the ASEAN to respect freedom of navigation and overflight as well as self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.
“We again call on China to respect the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea, as provided by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and refrain from actions that may cause an untoward incident,” she said.
The PCG released its statement a day after Agence France-Presse reported a “near-crash” between Philippine and China vessels off the Spratly Islands on Sunday.
The near collision was just the latest in a continuous, unbroken, and apparently unrepentant string of incidents that China must be accountable for, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Friday.
“I expect that the Department of Foreign Affairs will file a diplomatic protest at once,” she said.
Simultaneously, she noted that Malacanang should condemn, in the strongest terms, China’s ceaseless intimidation, torment, and threats.
She pointed out the executive should not wait for an even worse incident to finally put its foot down and tell Beijing to cease and desist in this kind of aggressive action.
At this time, she said it’s only right to actively and boldly continue in the direction of building bigger alliances.
“A broader alliance is a better alliance,” she said.
Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel III said it is to the bestinterest of all parties to start behaving like civilized, respectful, and reasonable neighbors.
Senator JV Ejercito said it was time for the country to strengthen its alliance with right-thinking nations to prevent Chinese aggression.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, an ally of former President Rodrigo Duterte who regularly appeased Beijing during his term, said the Philippines has been getting too much bullying from China.
“But what else can we do?” he said, as he cited hundreds of diplomatic protests that have been raised by our government.
Echoing Duterte, he said the country cannot afford to start a war with China.
“My advice to our Coast Guard is to maximize their escape and evasion tactics and remember always that patience is a virtue,” Dela Rosa said.
Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro on Friday condemned the latest Chinese action.
“China is really sly,” she said in Filipino. “While its diplomats say that more lines of communication are now available to avoid skirmishes and misunderstanding in the West Philippine Sea, their coast guard tried to ram our coast guard and are intent on denying us our own waters.”
“As things go, while China is using its might to force us out of our own territory and exclusive economic zones, the US is exploiting our strategic location to advance its geopolitical agenda to the detriment of Filipinos,” Castro said.
“With friends like these who needs enemies?” she said, adding that the latest incident should not be used as justification for increasing the number of bases that American troops can gain access to under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.