Philippines: No talks with China to ease West Philippine Sea tension

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
Philippines: No talks with China to ease West Philippine Sea tension
Local fisherfolk place the symbolic buoys with markings “WPS Atin ito!” on the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone before pushing to the Bajo de Masinloc during the second civilian resupply mission to the West Philippine Sea on May 15, 2024.
STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is not hopeful that talks between the Philippines and China will take place unless Beijing will act sincerely and responsibly, and refrain from behavior that puts at risk the safety of personnel and vessels.

The DFA has been exerting efforts to rebuild a conducive environment for dialogue and consultation with China on the South China Sea.

But the DFA said “this cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match their actions on the waters. We expect China to act sincerely and responsibly, and refrain from behavior that puts to risk the safety of personnel and vessels.”

The Philippines condemned yesterday the “illegal and aggressive” actions of China in Ayungin Shoal on Monday, which endangered the lives of Philippine Navy personnel and damaged vessels.

In a statement, the DFA expressed grave concern over the incident in Ayungin Shoal during a humanitarian mission to BRP Sierra Madre.

“The DFA denounces the illegal and aggressive actions of Chinese authorities that resulted in personnel injury and vessel damage,” the DFA said.

The DFA has reiterated its call for China to “adhere to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award, and respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in our own waters.”

China was the hostile one in the latest incident of aggression at the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea and was forcing its claim the United States would wage war, according to an official of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

“The People’s Republic of China has once again attempted to provoke trouble in Ayungin Shoal,” said PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesman for the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

In a post on his X account last June 19, he wrote China “clearly hopes that the US will also be agitated to justify their false narrative that Washington really wants to go to war against Beijing.”

“China intentionally fails to admit that their escalatory actions in the West Philippine Sea are a big gamble that would impact not just the region but the entire global trade,” he said.

The latest attempt by the China Coast Guard (CCG) to block the delivery of food and provisions to the Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal last June 17 left at least eight Filipinos injured – with one losing a finger – and several others disarmed and their inflatable boats punctured by the Chinese.


Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. yesterday likened CCG personnel to pirates, as he exposed how troops – armed with bolos, spears, machetes and knives – threatened Philippine Navy soldiers to stop the military’s rotation and resupply (RORE) mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

The military said the Chinese illegally seized at least seven rifles, punctured rigid haul inflatable boats (RHIBs) and destroyed various communication equipment and boat engines which China should return and definitely pay for.

Brawner said Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) personnel fought courageously the whole time with their bare hands as the CCG pointed their knives at Filipino soldiers who were unarmed and outnumbered but still brave enough to push back.

“For me, this is piracy. Piracy because they boarded our boats illegally, they got our equipment. Again, they are like pirates in the way they acted,” he told reporters at a press briefing in Palawan.

“This is the first time we saw the CCG armed with bolos, spears and knives. On the other hand, our troops were unarmed and the guns we were carrying were disassembled and in gun cases because we were transporting this to LS57,” he said.

“So we are not carrying bladed weapons or whatever. But the Chinese, they used them to damage our RHIBs, the rubber boats. It’s visible, we have videos and we saw in the videos how the Chinese even threatened our personnel by pointing their knives,” he added.

AFP Western Command chief Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. explained that the NAVSOG personnel that carried out the latest RORE mission were unarmed but the team was carrying gun cases containing disassembled firearms that were being transported to the Sierra Madre.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy deployed its newest missile-equipped patrol gunboat, the BRP Laurence Narag, in the southern Philippines two weeks after two Chinese warships were monitored passing through the Basilan Strait, an international sea lane within the Zamboanga peninsula.

In a radio challenge, the captain of one of the two ships responded that they were conducting normal navigation from their last port of call in Dili, Timor-Leste on their way to Dalian, China.

Four other Chinese navy warships were also spotted passing through the Sibutu Strait last May 2. The navigation was without coordination, a senior military official said.

CCG ships at Panatag

PCG vessel BRP Sindangan reportedly spotted three CCG ships and one Chinese Navy vessel at Panatag Shoal during its maritime patrol last June 18.

In a statement, the PCG said Sindangan reported that it monitored three CCG vessels: CCGV-3502, CCGV-3105 and CCGV-3106. Also seen in the area was the Chinese Navy ship with bow number 552.

BRP Sindangan and BRP Malapascua continued their maritime patrol at 43.89 nautical miles from Panatag Shoal.

They checked on the conditions of Filipino fishermen engaged in fishing activities at 43.7 nautical miles from Panatag Shoal. Coast Guard personnel also distributed food packs and medicines to the Filipino fishermen.

Last June 17, PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan deployed the Sindangan and Malapascua to protect Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal in response to China’s threats to apprehend non-Chinese fishermen in the WPS.

‘Bound to happen?’

Armed conflict between the Philippines and China is bound to occur not only because of its disputes in the territorial waters in the WPS, but also due to the country’s proximity to Taiwan, according to defense analyst and De La Salle University professor Renato de Castro.

“We have caught the special attention of China because of our proximity to Taiwan,” De Castro said.

Earlier reports had it that the live fire military exercises of the Philippines and the US were aimed at preparing for possible war between Taiwan and China, the latter claiming Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory.

De Castro cited that President Marcos told members and officials of the 5th Infantry Division during his visit last week that the AFP should prepare for external threat.

“They are actually taking the cue from the commander in chief. But, at least, the message is going down from the President down to the AFP, that they have to prepare for the external defense and by external defense, we should not limit ourselves to looking at the West Philippine Sea, South China Sea. The more dangerous backlash is actually Taiwan,” De Castro said.

Justice and reparations

For Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the government must demand “justice and reparation” for the Filipino Navy sailors who were injured as a result of CCG’s “ruthless assault and aggression” off the WPS.

Lagman said the CCG should be held accountable for the damaged Philippine vessel. He noted the maritime zone was already awarded to the Philippines by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 so the supply vessel is protected by the country’s laws.

“The government must demand from China the full identities of the culprits. The Chinese government is also liable as the principal of the culprits,” he added.

Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also condemned yesterday China’s unilateral enforcement of its “illegal” rule allowing its Coast Guard to detain alleged trespassers in areas in the South China Sea that it claims as part of its territory.

“This rule has no basis in law. It violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling in favor of our country,” Rodriguez, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments of the House of Representatives, said.

Meanwhile, militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) yesterday said the Philippines should seek help from Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries in protesting the attack by China Coast Guard personnel against Filipino soldiers.

“Let us build alliances in the region that upholds international law, the demilitarization of WPS at ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law,” Bayan president Renato Reyes said. – Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan, Roel Pareño, Jose Rodel Clapano, Ghio Ong, Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla, Emmanuel Tupas

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