EDITORIAL — Credible self-defense

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Credible self-defense

It’s a water cannon that employs force, not a water pistol that squirts liquid. The cannon’s force is strong enough to damage a ship’s engine. Which is what happened in the latest attack launched by the China Coast Guard against Philippine vessels within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.

Yesterday morning in the WPS, China Coast Guard and militia ships rammed and blasted Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to troops on the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal. The water cannon blast caused “severe damage” to the engines of the M/L Kalayaan, disabling the vessel. The mast of the BRP Cabra, which was directly targeted by the water cannon, was also damaged. A CCG ship harassed and “rammed” the civilian vessel Unaizah Mae 1, which managed to reach the Sierra Madre.

The attack comes on the heels of a similar incident on Saturday, in which the CCG blasted vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to prevent the civilian boats from approaching Filipino fishing vessels near Panatag or Scarborough Shoal off Zambales. The blast caused “significant” damage to the communication and navigation equipment of one of the boats.

Video and images of the attacks were provided by the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Coast Guard, which towed the disabled Kalayaan to shore.

The EEZ is defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to the UNCLOS. Yet China has refused to respect a ruling based on UNCLOS, handed down in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, invalidating its greedy nine-dash-line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea. Beijing has reinforced its claim by constructing artificial islands on reefs and shoals within the EEZs of the Philippines and several other countries. China is behaving on the principle that might makes right, which would bring chaos to the world order if it became the rule in the international community. And it is staking its claim with the use of its coast guard, which – unlike in other countries – is not a civilian arm but is under the Chinese military command.

Operations of the CCG can be construed as military in nature. This point has been downplayed even by Philippine allies, which have been profuse in expressing condemnation of Chinese aggression in the WPS. While the statements of condemnation are appreciated, they have as much impact as a water pistol being squirted at the CCG ships. The Philippines cannot rely on the spit of allies for its own self-defense. Unless the government is continuing the previous administration’s policy of kowtowing to Beijing, it should get serious about developing credible self-defense.

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