DFA chief tweets order to protest China harassment
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who is with President Duterte in Russia, tweeted yesterday that he ordered the filing of the diplomatic protest, adding to the series of protests against Chinese incursion in Philippine waters.
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DFA chief tweets order to protest China harassment
Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines fired off another diplomatic protest against China after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel again attempted to block a Philippine civilian vessel delivering provisions to a contingent of sailors and marines at Ayungin Shoal, one of nine features under the control of Filipino forces in the country’s Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who is with President Duterte in Russia, tweeted yesterday that he ordered the filing of the diplomatic protest, adding to the series of protests against Chinese incursion in Philippine waters.

“I’m in Moscow. Do I have to fly home to file the diplomatic protest myself? File Now!!!” Locsin tweeted past midnight yesterday.

The country’s top diplomat made the statement in response to new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Noel Clement’s confirmation that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel was spotted four to five nautical miles from Ayungin Shoal.

“The mere presence there if there is no request for passage prior to that will have to be reported… Whether it is a violation or not will be up to our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” Clement said.

“Fire off another diplomatic protest, Igor. Now,” Locsin said, apparently instructing special assistant Igor Bailen of the DFA Office of the Secretary to initiate the move.

Prior to this, Locsin fired off a series of diplomatic protests against China over the presence of its warships and survey ships in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Similar protests have also been filed against Beijing over the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

‘New normal’ for troops in Kalayaan

This latest harassment happened two weeks ago, as bared yesterday by a senior security official, and was the second in four months after a huge Chinese vessel harassed three Filipino ships in the vicinity of Ayungin while also delivering supplies to troops in May.

“It happened two weeks ago. But the resupply operations of the Western Command (Wescom) using our civilian ship pushed through,” the security official, who asked not to be named, said.

The incident would now be a “new normal” for Filipino troops on rotation and resupply mission in the KIG, given the already gross manifestation of Chinese ships in Philippine waters, the official said.

This was because Chinese vessels based at the nearby Panganiban (Mischief) Reef are now conducting regular maritime patrol around the waters of Ayungin Shoal.

The official declined to discuss other details behind the latest maritime “encounter,” saying he is leaving the matter to Wescom to disclose what really happened.

Located 105 nautical miles from mainland Palawan, Ayungin Shoal is guarded by a contingent of sailors and Marines aboard a rusty but still commissioned Philippine Navy ship, BRP Sierra Madre.

If not through its own supply ship, Wescom usually sends food and other supplies like water and medicines to soldiers guarding Ayungin Shoal through Filipino fishing vessels.

Measuring 17 kilometers long and around seven kilometers wide, Ayungin is situated only 20 nautical miles (inward) from China’s newly established air and naval bases on an artificial island now sitting over Panganiban Reef.

As of Tuesday, the official said that a lone Chinese Coast Guard vessel was monitored to be around 10 nautical miles from the shoal.

“Most of the time Chinese Coast Guard vessels, on patrol, have been circling Ayungin Shoal. Normally these Chinese vessels are stationed at Panganiban Reef which is in close proximity,” the security official said.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a report last week bared that China has started to make the presence of its vessels more pronounced over Ayungin and Panatag Shoals and over Malaysia’s Luconia shoal further down south.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said the pattern of Chinese patrols over the three features in the Spratlys has become more consistent in recent years, especially with the completion of harbor facilities at China’s forward air and naval bases at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Zamora (Subi) Reef and Panganiban Reef.

AYUNGIN SHOAL TEODORO LOCSIN JR
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