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Thursday, February 22, 2024

PBBM: PH resolve ‘steeled’

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Protest filed, envoy summoned, but China puts up new sea barriers

President Marcos on Sunday night said China’s latest acts of aggression against Filipino boats in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) merely strengthened the country’s resolve to defend its sovereignty.

China fired flares at a Philippine aerial mission using an aircraft of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to the Panganiban Reef from the maritime feature in the West Philippine Sea, GMA News TV reported last night.

The PH mission also received radio challenges from the Chinese stationed at the reef, according to Marisol Abdurahman’s report on “24 Oras.”

The BFAR patrol, which was providing air cover to a civilian “Christmas convoy” to Filipino troops and fishermen in the WPS, managed to capture images of the facilities China had built on the reef well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese Maritime Militia against our vessels and personnel over the weekend have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” the President said in a lengthy post on his X account.

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Despite this, China put up new floating barriers at the mouth of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal after the Philippines cut them down last September to let Filipino fishermen access the fish-rich area, an ABS-CBN TV report showed using footage from the Philippine Coast Guard.

During the weekend, Chinese ships used water cannons and rammed Philippine Coast Guard vessels on a routine resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned China’s envoy on Monday and raised the possibility of expelling him following the tensest confrontations between the countries’ vessels in years at flashpoint reefs in the disputed South China Sea.

Diplomatic protests had been filed and “the Chinese ambassador has also been summoned”, DFA spokeswoman Teresita Daza told a news conference on Monday.

Daza said declaring China’s ambassador Huang Xilian “persona non grata” in the Philippines was also “something that has to be seriously considered.”

Agence France Presse correspondents outside the DFA head office in Manila saw a Chinese-flagged SUV enter the compound at 3 p.m. The vehicle was seen leaving 45 minutes later.

In Beijing, China said moves by its Coast Guard against Philippine vessels in the disputed South China Sea were “professional” and “restrained”, adding it had “lodged stern representations” with Manila.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing’s Coast Guard “took necessary measures against the Philippine ships in accordance with domestic and international law”.

“The operations were professional, restrained, reasonable and legal,” she said.

Beijing’s foreign ministry, Mao added, “has lodged stern representations with the Philippines and expresses its strong protest.”

In his post, the President said he had constant communication with the national security and defense leaders and instructed the uniformed services to conduct their missions with utmost regard for their safety.

He also reiterated that the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) are settled and widely recognized by international law as part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Let me reiterate what is settled and widely recognized: Ayungin Shoal is within our exclusive economic zone; any foreign claim of sovereignty over it is baseless and absolutely contrary to international law. Bajo de Masinloc is sovereign Philippine territory and an integral part of our archipelago. No one but the Philippines has a legitimate right or legal basis to operate anywhere in the West Philippine Sea,” President Marcos said.

“The illegal presence in our waters and dangerous actions against our citizens is an outright and blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order,” he added.

Mr. Marcos concluded his post by expressing his gratitude to and full support for the nation’s uniformed personnel.

“To our gallant service members, be assured of our utmost gratitude and fullest support. We remain undeterred,” the President said.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Monday called China’s recent provocations in the West Philippine Sea a “serious escalation” on the part of China.

NTF-WPS spokesperson and National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya offered this assessment after Chinese vessels water cannoned and rammed Philippine vessels conducting routine resupply missions in Ayungin Shoal on Sunday and used similar tactics on three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) boats heading to Scarborough Shoal on Saturday.

The task force spokesperson also addressed Beijing’s claim that a Philippine chartered boat intentionally rammed a Chinese Coast Guard ship, saying China’s actions have caused significant damage to the supply boats.

“China’s claim that the small and wooden Unaizah Mae 1 intentionally rammed a CCG vessel is the height of disinformation,” Malaya said.

Malaya questioned China’s sincerity in seeking peaceful dialogue over the tension in the region, saying Beijing’s illegal actions have cast doubt over the chances of any peaceful resolution.

Furthermore, Malaya said that a new “strategy” involving military and non-military actions would be presented to the President and would be carried out once it is approved.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela, meanwhile, said that around 46 Chinese vessels were roaming in the area of the incident.

“That’s 46. This is the largest number of maritime forces that we have documented so far in the previous months,” Tarriela said in the same briefing.

Moreover, Tarriela said the PCG will maintain the “moral high ground” to China’s level of equipping water cannons as an offensive weapon.

“We don’t need to go down to the level of the China Coast Guard using their water cannon to use it as an offensive weapon and damaging other vessels,” he added. With AFP

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