Philippines rejects China’s laser explanation Beijing claims ship did not direct lasers at PCG vessel

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
Philippines rejects China�s laser explanation Beijing claims ship did not direct lasers at PCG vessel
Shows a green laser light from a Chinese coast guard ship as seen from the BRP Malapascua near Ayungin Shoal last Feb. 6.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The country is standing by the account of the Philippine Coast Guard that the Chinese harassed a PCG ship on Feb. 6 in Ayungin Shoal with powerful laser light, rejecting Beijing’s claim that its use of laser was meant to “ensure navigation safety.”

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Malapascua was undertaking legitimate activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and that the CCG’s action placed the PCG crew in danger.

“As far as the DFA is concerned, we have no reason to doubt the Philippine Coast Guard’s account of the incident,” Daza told reporters.

“While we agree that we should continue working together, we hope the Chinese side would reciprocate our efforts and refrain from committing actions that do not in any way positively contribute to our relations,” she said.

Ayungin Shoal is located about 105 nautical miles from Palawan. China is also claiming the shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao. A grounded ship, BRP Sierra Madre, serves as a Filipino military detachment in the shoal. Malapascua was helping deliver provisions to troops stationed on Sierra Madre when the incident happened.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the “Philippine side’s allegation does not reflect the truth.”

Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the CCG’s action was “retrained” and “professional” and in accordance with the law.

“During that process, the China Coast Guard ship used handheld laser speed detector and handheld greenlight pointer to measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel and signal directions to ensure navigation safety,” Wang said.

“We need to highlight the fact that the China Coast Guard ship did not direct lasers at the Philippine crew, and the handheld equipment does not inflict damage on anything or anyone on the vessel,” he added.

The Philippines protested Tuesday China’s dangerous maneuvers and use of military-grade laser, which the United States said was “provocative and unsafe.”

The DFA said the acts of aggression by China are “disturbing and disappointing” as it came after the President’s state visit to China in early January during which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to manage maritime differences “through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation.”

PCG adviser for maritime security Commodore Jay Tarriela lashed out at the Chinese foreign ministry for making up stories to make it appear the crew members of Malapascua were not telling the truth.

“The first important thing that I’d really like to call on to counter their statement is that they were saying they are only using this for measuring and speed of the vessel. But it is important to note that their vessels already have radars, and why would you do that, right?” Tarriela said in a television interview.

“They are claiming that these are not military-grade lasers. But of course, we’re not going to lie. Our crew have temporarily experienced blindness for 10 to 15 seconds … the mere fact that our crew reported that they experienced temporary loss of vision is something that is not a made up story,” he added.

While admitting that he is not an expert in laser technology, Tarriela said that the videos and the photos PCG personnel took during the incident clearly showed that the lasers by the CCG have an extensive reach and light that can cause temporary blindness.

He said it would be “very improper” for the Philippine government to accept the narrative of the Chinese government especially its claim of jurisdiction over Philippine waters and calling the Filipinos intruders.

“Why are we going to believe the narrative of China, that we are the one lying, that we are making up stories that our troops got blinded, and judging from their statement we were the one intruding into our own waters,” he said.

“It’s very improper for us to accept that kind of statement from the ministry of foreign affairs who claims that our waters belong to them, and that we are the ones lying in this narrative,” he added.

Despite the Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, Tarriela said that they would continue to stick to the so-called white-to-white ship deployment, to preserve peace and to de-escalate tensions.

He said that maintaining their mandate in the West Philippine Sea is not just about responding to China’s behavior, but that it “has something to do with the regional setting” that they have all agreed upon “that nobody has to demilitarize the dispute in the South China Sea.”

An international law professor, meanwhile, said China’s use of a military-grade laser against a PCG vessel is a matter that should be taken before the international community as it violates the United Nations Charter that prohibits the use of force in settling international disputes.

While international law professor Romel Bagares believes that laser pointing does not constitute an armed attack as suggested by some experts, he said the use of lasers violate Article 2 of the UN Charter, which prohibits member states from using threat or force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

“For an armed attack to happen, you have to consider the scale and effects of the action of the party,” Bagares said in an interview aired over ANC.

“That means the intensity and magnitude of a military action and the effect, which is substantial, which should be considerable loss of lives and damage and I don’t think there is a such a case here,” he added.

“For me, although this is not an armed attack technically, this is a more serious violation of the prohibition on the use of force and we should really take this act before the international community,” he said, noting that laser is considered an insidious weapon that should be prohibited for the suffering they can cause.

“Lasers can damage equipment... aside from causing temporary blindness or permanent blindness,” he added. - Neil Jayson Servallos, Robertzon Ramirez

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