Philippines mulls filing case vs China over collision

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
Philippines mulls filing case vs China over collision
China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel collides with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-contracted resupply boat during a rotation and reprovisioning (RoRe) mission to BRP SIERRA MADRE on October 22, 2023 because of CCG's dangerous blocking maneuvers.

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may file a case against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) over last Sunday’s incident in Ayungin Shoal wherein a Chinese coast guard ship made a “provocative” maneuver and hit a Filipino vessel carrying provisions for a military outpost on BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

National Security Council (NSC) assistant director Jonathan Malaya said filing a case before the ITLOS is among the many options on the table for the Philippine government, as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) have listed infractions committed by the Chinese to hold them accountable.

But it would be up to President Marcos and the Cabinet’s security, justice and peace cluster to decide if a case can be filed, based on results of ongoing investigations.

“We can file a case in the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea… Yesterday it was made clear to us by DFA and PCG that there are violations made by China on the collision regulations, so we have a recourse there,” Malaya told radio dzBB, referring to the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea of 1972.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss (other options). We will have to wait for the announcements of the National Security Adviser or the Secretary of National Defense,” he added.

Malaya stressed that the evidence being gathered by the PCG and other government agencies would be used to compel China to pay for damages.

“I think it’s clear who is at fault there. It’s not true that the BRP Cabra turned around. It’s not true that Unaiza May 2 was the one that rammed the Chinese vessel. All these narratives are useless because we have witnesses and videos from the media – an independent body not within government control,” he said.

“Clearly, there is intent. The Chinese side did this with clear intent to prevent and block our ships, which led to a collision, so all evidence will be stacked to bolster our position,” he added.

No trigger to MDT

In an interview with dzRH, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the Chinese intentionally hitting a Philippine vessel last Sunday was not enough to trigger the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

“These situations do not trigger the need to invoke the MDT. The more serious attacks – deliberate attacks, for instance, on Philippine ships or an attack on the territory... would necessitate invoking MDT. But such small collisions do not,” Brawner said in an interview with dzRH.

The 1951 MDT allows the Philippines and the United States to come to the defense of the other in case of external attacks.

The NSC’s Malaya earlier said an “armed attack on a public vessel of the Philippines will be enough to trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Following the collision, Brawner said the government instead set its sights on rallying allies, partners and like-minded nations to continue joint exercises in the South China Sea as demonstration of a united front against aggressors.

Unaiza May 2, an AFP-contracted supply boat, was on a regular mission to deliver supply to troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre at 6:04 a.m. on Sunday when it was blocked by a Chinese coast guard vessel with bow number 5203.

The resupply boat was 13.5 nautical miles east-northeast from the grounded warship when the “provocative, irresponsible and illegal action of CCGV 5203 imperiled the safety of the crew of (Unaiza May 2).”

In the same resupply mission, Chinese Maritime Militia vessel 00003 jolted the port side of PCG vessel MRRV 4409 while the latter was cruising 6.4 nautical miles northeast of Ayungin Shoal.

The incident prompted the DFA to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing, with allies like the US, France, South Korea and Japan rallying behind the Philippines.

No compromise

In a post on Facebook or Meta, President Marcos said there is no compromise when it comes to Philippines territory and sovereignty. He denounced China’s action in Ayungin Shoal last Sunday as “illegal” and “reckless.”

“The defense of our people, our territory and our sovereignty is and will always be non-negotiable,” Marcos wrote on his official Facebook account Monday night.

“I directed the PCG to investigate the Ayungin Shoal incident in accordance with international maritime laws during our command conference with security officials,” the President said.

“The DFA also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to express our categorical denunciation of the China Coast Guard’s illegal and reckless actions,” he said.

Meanwhile, alumni of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) have issued a statement calling on Filipinos to unite against China’s provocations in the West Philippine Sea.

The NDCP Alumni Association Inc. also urged the public to remain vigilant and well informed amid growing tensions in the country’s territorial waters.

“The West Philippine Sea is of great importance to our nation, future and children – their inheritance we should not lose during our watch,” the NDCPAAI statement read.

“Not only is it our right but our duty to protect it (the country) when parties launch aggressive acts to challenge our sovereignty and curb our activities over what is legally ours,” NDCPAAI said.

The NDCPAAI said Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro was right about assailing China for “deliberately obfuscating the truth.”

The NDCPAAI said “not only are our ships being rammed, the truth that is on our side is being pummeled too.”

“The best defense against falsehood are facts which we can learn by educating ourselves about what our country’s rights are over the West Philippine Sea and the legitimacy of our actions there,” the association said.

However, the NDCPAAI emphasized that “diplomacy in search of principled peaceful solution is of equal importance,” but added this could only be achieved if “a united citizenry is behind the government.”

“We thus call on our fellow Filipinos, regardless of political affiliations, to put aside our differences and rally around our country’s cause. As we maintain a credible defense posture, we must engage in constructive dialogue and nurture cordial and conflict-free peaceful solutions, guided by international law and our commitment to upholding justice and fairness,” the association said.

“By pursuing these multiple tracks, we project a stance that is strong at home and supported by the people and respected abroad and recognized by the community of nations as just and right,” it stressed. — Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda

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