Two civilian boats chartered by the military to conduct resupply missions to soldiers guarding the Ayungin Shoal in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) were attacked with water cannons by two of three Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels that blocked them.
The incident on Tuesday happened while the Armed Forces of the Philippines is holding its biggest land, sea and air exercise “AJEX-Dagit,” and while the United States and the Philippines were concluding a bilateral dialogue in Washington, D.C. where both nations declared that the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) covers the South China Sea.
Reacting to the incident, Malacañang vowed on Thursday the country would not back down in exerting its jurisdiction in Ayungin Shoal.
“As we have in the past, we will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over our territory,” Acting Presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a news statement.
The attack on boats Unaiza Mae 1 and Unaiza Mae 3, which persisted for at least an hour, according to National Security Adviser and National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr., broke the outrigger of one of the watercraft, prompting Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to lodge a diplomatic protest against China.
The military remained mum on the incident, which aborted the resupply mission for the soldiers aboard the partly sunken BRP Sierra Madre, which they have been using as an outpost in watching the Ayungin Shoal.
“I reminded China that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty,” said Locsin in a news statement where he disclosed that he conveyed in strongest terms to China’s ambassador to the Philippines the government’s “outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident.”
“Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” Locsin stressed.
“The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal…China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” he added, assuring that the government will continue to resupply its troops in the Ayungin and does not need to “ask” permission on what it does in its territory.
“I have conveyed in the strongest terms to H.E. Huang Xilian, Ambassador of China and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident,” the country’s top diplomat said.
Under the MDT, US is under treaty obligation to help the Philippines in case of attack by a foreign aggressor within the Philippine territory in the Pacific area or on any Philippine public vessel.
Esperon said the two CCG vessels blocked the two Filipino boats in the Ayungin while the third Chinese vessel fired a water cannon at them for about an hour that broke the outrigger of one of the resupply boats. The boats aborted their mission and sailed back to Palawan.
A military official revealed that another report indicated that the two CCG ships attacked the two boats while the third CCG vessel stayed at the mouth of the shoal, apparently guarding it.
Esperon said that a week before the attack, the government has noticed an unusual increase in the number of Chinese maritime militia vessels at the shoal and in Pagasa Island.
He said that in the aftermath of the incident, they would send Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels to the shoal. With Marilou Talosig-Bartolome and Samuel P. Medenilla