The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Friday it was investigating a report that Chinese military boats pursued a civilian vessel carrying Filipino journalists in the disputed South China Sea.
A television crew from ABS-CBN was traveling to Second Thomas Shoal in the contested Spratly Islands on Thursday when their vessel was allegedly chased by a Chinese Coast Guard boat and two attack craft.
Tensions over the resource-rich sea have spiked in recent weeks after hundreds of Chinese vessels were detected at the Julian Felipe (Whitsun Reef), which is also in the Spratly archipelago.
China, which claims almost the entirety of the sea, has refused repeated appeals by the Philippines to withdraw the vessels, which Manila says unlawfully entered its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“The AFP expresses concern over the report of an alleged harassment by Chinese PLA Navy vessels and a Chinese Coast Guard vessel as reported by a team of journalist(s) on board a watercraft within our EEZ,” said Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Through the AFP’s Western Command, we are conducting investigation and verifications to establish what transpired.”
ABS-CBN said the vessel carrying its TV crew was asked by a Chinese Coast Guard boat to identify itself. The Filipino boat turned around and the Chinese vessel gave chase, it said.
“CCG 5101 slowed down and turned away after an hour to the relief of the Filipino crew, who by this time had been following a straight path back to mainland Palawan,” ABS-CBN reported.
“However, two smaller, faster vessels emerged in the horizon, apparently giving chase to the Filipino boat,” it said.
“Within minutes, the unique shape and design of the Houbei Type 22 missile fast attack craft became visible. The two missile-capable boats resumed the chase.”
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., whose department vowed recently to lodge a daily diplomatic protest until China withdraws its vessels from Philippine waters, said the report was “worrisome.”
“It seems — please verify — ABSCBN crew weren’t in a boat they hired (inviting risk) but in a passenger boat,” Locsin said on Twitter.
“Now that’s a whole other banana; the state is sworn to protect the Philippine public. And you don’t give chase; you use your bullhorn to warn off.”
In a phone call on Friday, Locsin and his US counterpart Antony Blinken expressed concern over the presence of Chinese “maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea, including at Whitsun Reef” according to the US State Department readout.
The United States reminded China on Wednesday of Washington’s treaty obligations to the Philippines in the event of an attack in the waters.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday the United States should “stop sowing discord” and allow regional countries to settle “their differences between themselves”.
Arevalo said the AFP has already made representations with the ABS-CBN news reporter involved to provide them with raw footage or photographs of the incident to help the military establish the circumstances and document the incident.
While he understands journalists’ desire to keep the public informed, Arevalo also urged them to exercise prudence in the performance of their jobs.
Arevalo added that the AFP has accommodated members of the media in military ships and aircraft to do their coverage so they can be protected while in the practice of their profession.
Malacanang was mum on the incident.
Asked to comment on the incident, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters to pose their questions to the Foreign Affairs and Defense departments.
According to a report from the ABS CBN news, the Chinese Navy deployed two missile attack craft to chase down a Filipino vessel in the West Philippine Sea Thursday.
It was the first recorded use of Chinese military vessels against civilians since the West Philippine Sea controversy began.
The news team aboard was traveling across various reefs and shoals in the West Philippine Sea close to the mainland of Palawan to see where Filipino fishermen have moved their livelihood after Chinese vessels occupied their former fishing grounds..
The civilian vessel was four miles from the entrance of Ayungin Shoal which is inside the country’s exclusive economic zone when a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel chased them.
The Chinese ship followed the Filipino ship on its path home to mainland Palawan for an hour, getting so close that bow number 5101 was visible to the naked eye.
The vice chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on national defense on Friday condemned the harassment of a Filipino civilian vessel in Philippine waters by Chinese forces, calling the incident unacceptable.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said he would be filing a resolution next week “to express the sense of House in protesting and condemning the harassment of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea.”
“This disrespect of Filipinos on the eve of the country’s commemoration of The Day of Valor is unacceptable,” he added.
Biazon said the “manifest bullying” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy was “the height of Chinese arrogance and hypocrisy” since they always call on other nations to practice respect and promote peace in those waters. With AFP
“The use of grey hulls in denying Filipinos’ passage in the West Philippine Sea within the country’s EEZ is conduct that deserves condemnation by Filipinos,” he said.
Biazon said the Chinese actions were devoid of any legal basis and deserve the appropriate legal action through diplomatic channels.
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday said she was outraged by the incident and said she lost whatever small respect she had for China.
This latest provocation, she stressed, only proves that China knows it can never win diplomatically or legally in its territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Due to this, Hontiveros said, China is desperately resorting to the threat of using deadly force.
Malacañang should also unambiguously denounce China’s threats and intimidation at once, she said.
“The administration’s kowtowing to China has been an absolute reneging on our obligation to assert our sovereign rights and territorial claims in the WPS,” Hontiveros said. “Let’s look to Indonesia which has been standing up to China with regard to the WPS, and yet has still been able to secure satisfactory investments and has timely received COVID-19 vaccines from China. Meanwhile, here in the Philippines, China’s investments have not materialized and the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines has been marred by major delays.”
Under this administration, the senator said, Filipinos cannot even have freedom of navigation in their own EEZ.
“It has also been infuriating to repeatedly hear statements from the highest office of our country that the Philippines and China will resolve issues because we are ‘friends,’” she said. With AFP
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