China’s continuing efforts to impede and harass Filipino supply boats and their escorts on going about their lawful mandate in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is increasing the tensions in the area as exemplified by the latest collision incident that affected two Philippine vessels last Sunday.
“The provocative actions are on the part of China. It is not the Philippines that is increasing tension, it is China that is increasing tension in the WPS, especially by interfering and blocking our legitimate resupply mission,” National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said at a news briefing Monday.
Malaya also described the collision that damaged Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel, PCG Cabra (MRRV-4409) and supply boat, Unaiza May 2 as “alarming.”
Also, the NSC official, who is also National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), said National Security Adviser Secretary Eduardo M. Año condemned in the strongest degree the “latest dangerous, irresponsible and illegal blocking maneuvers of the China Coast Guard (CCG) in consort with the Chinese maritime militia (CMM), that caused it to collide with Unaiza May 2, approximately 13.5 nautical miles of BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in Ayungin Shoal.
“We also condemn in the strongest terms the same illegal acts by Chinese vessels that caused CMM Vessel 00003 to bump PCG MRRV 4409 while it was lying approximately 6.4 nautical miles northeast of Ayungin Shoal. As we have repeatedly said in the past, continued Chinese blocking and interference by Chinese vessels with our regular and routine rotation and resupply (RORE) missions to BRP Sierra Madre may lead to disastrous results,” Malaya said.
And while thankful that no lives were lost in the collision Sunday, China’s provocative and irresponsible actions can clearly compromise the safety of the Filipino crew manning the affected ships, the NSC official added.
Despite knowing that they’re dangerous and illegal maneuvers could cause a maritime mishap, these Chinese vessels continued with their “their reckless and illegal acts,” causing the collision in an attempt to interfere with a legal and legitimate Philippine operation.
“We are relieved and thankful that no Filipino personnel were harmed, but we are concerned by the escalation and provocations by Chinese vessels [that] have no business being in the West Philippine Sea. The CCG’s claim that
They were conducting law enforcement activities have no or zero basis whatsoever—Ayungin Shoal is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Therefore, China has no legal authority or basis to enforce anything in those waters and in the entire WPS,” he added.
Malaya, who is also NTF-WPS spokesperson, also dismissed China’s claims that the country needs to make prior notification before making any resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.
“Again, we ask: Why should we do so? Ayungin Shoal is not Hainan Island. Moreover, their claim that their actions were professional and legitimate collapses in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” he added.
And since only one Filipino supply boat, the Unaiza May 1, was able to complete its supply mission, Malaya said they consider this RORE mission as a partial success.
Unaiza May 2 was unable to unload its cargo as a result of the damage caused by the collision.
“Nonetheless, the Philippines will never be deterred by the provocative actions of China. We will continue to repair, maintain and sustain our troops in BRP Sierra Madre while the said ship is on duty in defense of our sovereignty, Sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the WPS,” Malaya said.
As this developed, the PCG said the CCG and the CMM violated three international maritime rules during two separate collisions during the RORE for the Ayungin Shoal detachment.
Rules violated are under Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs) of which China is also a signatory state.
“The first one [violated] is Rule 2 or ‘the responsibility of the vessel.’ This rule emphasized that nothing in the COLREGs can absolve any vessel from the duty to avoid a collision,” PCG spokesperson for WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said.
He added that intentionally blocking a vessel not only increases the risk of collision but also disregard the “fundamental principle of taking action to prevent a potential collision.”
Another rule violated by China, he said, was Rule 7 or “the risk of collision,” which requires every vessel to “use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if a risk of collision exists.”
“Rule 7 is considered in conjunction with other relevant rules and factors, such as Rules 5 (look-out), 6 (safe speed), and 8 (action to avoid collision),” he said.
He said the Chinese vessels also violated Rule 18A or “the responsibilities between vessels,” which requires vessels to keep out of the way of another vessel if the latter has the right of way.
“By deliberately blocking a vessel, you are not allowing the other vessel to proceed in accordance with their right of way,” he said.
These incident has shown escalating action from Chinese maritime militia vessels that were previously limited to supporting the CCG through blocking maneuvers, Tarriela stressed,
“For the first time, the Chinese maritime militia vessels are also doing such dangerous maneuvers that even [caused a collision] with our PCG vessel. Before, they were just taking orders from the CCG,” he said.
Prior the October 22 collisions, a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship attempted to cross the bow of naval transport BRP Benguet while en route to a RORE mission in Rizal Reef last October 13.
“The report says that there were instances of harassment this particular way, shadowing operation, but this is the first time that they tried to cross the bow of our naval vessel which is LS-507, which is a kind of elevation of their activities as far as RORE mission with, in Rizal Reef is concerned,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said in an interview with CNN Philippines last October 17.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. earlier urged China to cease these dangerous maneuvers and aggressive actions towards Philippine vessels.
Senators, Akbayan weigh in on WPS collision
Senators and a political party have weighed in on Sunday’s collision between a CCG ship and Philippine boats on a resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal, saying the incident poses serious threats to maritime safety and warrants a rethinking of the country’s current strategies in dealing with the bullying by its Asian neighbor right within the Philippines’ EEZ.
“We strongly condemn the reckless and hostile behavior of the Chinese Coast Guard towards our resupply boat contracted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), resulting in a collision near Ayungin Shoal. These actions not only violate maritime norms and international law but also pose a threat to the safety and security of the region,” said Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, chairman of the Senate Defense Committee.
Lamenting the “utter lack of respect for us and our people’s lives,” Estrada stressed in a statement in Filipino: Dapat pag-aralan na ng mga kinauukulan ang susunod na hakbang.
It is time, he added, to “study well our next move,” asking, “Will a mere diplomatic protest still suffice this time?”
A similar call for a restrategizing was made by Sen. Grace Poe, who heads the Senate Public Services Committee.
“While an immediate diplomatic protest is anticipated, the recent incident calls for a serious rethinking of our strategies in dealing with these acts,” said Poe
She suggested in a statement Monday, “As we firmly assert our rights in our waters, fortifying our relations with like-minded states must continue to thwart similar belligerent actions.”
Poe conveyed caution in a statement issued Monday that “China’s latest act of aggression poses a credible concern that could heighten the tension not only between Philippines and China, but could also be a potential flashpoint in the region.”
At the same time, the Akbayan Party suggested using the 2016 Arbitral ruling favoring Manila over Beijing in order to reckon with China’s “continued intrusion in the West Philippine Sea.”
“We raise our voice once more and condemn this latest brazen show of aggression. We stand with the brave men and women of our Coast Guard. We call upon the Marcos administration to hold fast to our historic victory at The Hague and ram the UNCLOS ruling straight into China!” Akbayan Party President Rafaela David said.
David added: “Regardless of the frequency with which China’s vessels ram our boats and its water cannons target our brave fisherfolk and dedicated frontliners, the immutable truth remains: the West Philippine Sea is unequivocally and indelibly ours. China will only inevitably ram headlong with the unyielding reality that it stands as a trespasser and usurper in our territory.”