Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has protested the continued “intimidation and harassment” of China Coast Guard (CCG) ships on two Philippine boats that successfully brought food and supplies to Filipino soldiers stationed at Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday.
In a statement, Lorenzana said he already communicated to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian the actions done by the CCG.
He said that a China Coast Guard vessel was present near Ayungin Shoal at the time the supply boats reached the shoal and took photos and videos of the operation.
“There was a Chinese Coast Guard ship in the vicinity which sent a rubber boat with three persons near the [BRP] Sierra Madre while our boats were unloading and took photos and videos,” Lorenzana said.
“We consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment,” he added.
Before the supply boats left Palawan on Monday, Lorenzana said the Chinese envoy had promised him that the CCG would no longer intimidate the Filipino soldiers, so long as their vessels would not be escorted by the military.
The Philippines adhered to the condition, as Philippine Air Force aircraft were flown to monitor the supply boats, while Philippine Coast Guard ships sailed near Pag-asa Island to ensure they could readily respond in case of another confrontation.
The boats resumed the resupply mission on Monday after they were blocked and blasted with water cannons by the CCG ships last week, prompting leftist lawmakers on Tuesday to file a resolution calling for a congressional investigation into the Ayungin Shoal incident on Nov. 16.
In House Resolution 2370, members of the Makabayan Bloc asked the House of Representatives committee on foreign affairs “to condemn and investigate, in aid of legislation, the recent attack of China against Philippine boats.”
The group said the incident showed “China’s increasing aggression and arrogance” in claiming and annexing Philippine waters and territories.
Former ambassador and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the incident “reminds us, Filipinos, of the continuing Chinese aggression in our waters.”
“The Chinese threat to take over the West Philippine Sea is a real and continuing issue that should always be in the minds of every Filipino, especially in choosing our leaders in the upcoming 2022 elections,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
He said the Ayungin incident “should be an opportunity and impetus to multilateralize the South China Sea issue and actively push for the enforcement of the 2016 Arbitral Award in the international community.”
“These past years have witnessed how China converted Philippine seas and fishing grounds into military installations, how China bullied and threatened Filipino fisherfolk out of their own fishing grounds, and how China openly plundered or destroyed the country’s maritime resources,” the Makabayan group said.
“The government’s cowardly stance and failure to uphold the country’s own valid and rightful claims in these waters have further emboldened China to conduct itself like an imperial hooligan in the Philippines’ own territory,” it added.
The Chinese government claimed the Philippine vessels “trespassed” and so Chinese forces just did their job to protect Chinese territory.
Addressing the ASEAN-China summit, President Rodrigo Duterte branded China’s action as abhorrent, saying the incident “does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he is “thankful” that President Rodrigo Duterte issued a “very strong” statement against the Chinese vessels blocking and using water cannons on Philippine supply boats.
“Even if belatedly said, it’s better it was mentioned in a venue where ASEAN leaders were listening. No matter how late, it’s still good that the President issued a strong statement, at least to awaken not just China, but other stronger allies,” Lacson said.
Lacson said on top of filing diplomatic protests, the government should be more assertive.
Lacson also urged scientists and researchers to go to Pag-Asa Island and other areas in the West Philippine Sea to pursue their maritime studies and unearth the ecological riches these islands can provide the Philippines.
He said the presence of scientists and researchers, not just Filipinos but from all nations, will help preserve the balance of power in the region and make aggressor countries think twice about moving into and claiming these features in the WPS.
Lacson said the ongoing construction projects on Pag-Asa Island will allow more people to visit the country’s western front and see for themselves the extent of the Philippines’ natural resources in the area.
The developments include an improved road network, a deepwater port, and the planned expansion of the Pag-Asa airstrip into a proper runway to accommodate larger aircraft, Lacson said.
Lacson’s proposal also dovetails with the recent announcement by the government that it is reactivating the Marine Research Center on Pag-asa Island. He noted that the University of the Philippines and the Department of Science and Technology are sending a team to the center in January 2022.
“So aside from sending scientists from UP and DOST to the area, why not invite foreign scientists as well? I think they will be interested to get involved because the WPS area is wide and very rich in aquatic resources,” he said.