IN the continuing cat-and-mouse game in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), two Filipino vessels were damaged in the latest attempt of Chinese vessels to impede the routine resupply and rotation (RORE) mission to the detachment aboard the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in Ayungin Shoal last Sunday.
“Today, 10 December 2023, CCG and CMM vessels harassed, blocked, and executed dangerous maneuvers on Philippine civilian supply vessels, in another attempt to illegally impede or obstruct a routine RORE to BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal. CCG vessel 5204 deployed a water cannon against the Philippine supply vessels, causing severe damage to M/L Kalayaan’s engines, disabling the vessel and seriously endangering the lives of its crew. Currently, Philippine Coast Guard [PCG] vessel BRP Sindangan [MRRV-4407] is safely towing M/L Kalayaan back to Ulugan Bay, Palawan,” the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said in a statement last Sunday.
Also damaged in this aggressive action by the Chinese is the PCG ship, BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409), which sustained damage in its mast after being hit by a CCG water cannon.
“The PCG vessels and the resupply boats Unaizah Mae 1 [UM1] and M/L Kalayaan were subjected to reckless and dangerous harassment at close range by CCG and CMM vessels on their approach to Ayungin Shoal,” it added.
This harassment included a CCG ship with bow number 21556 ramming UM1.
“Contrary to CCG disinformation, UM1 was rammed by CCG 21556. Despite these extreme and reckless actions, UM1 successfully reached BRP Sierra Madre, and resupply is ongoing,” the task force stressed.
It reiterated that Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and as upheld by the 2016 Arbitral Award.
“The Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the feature. As a low-tide elevation, Ayungin Shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law. China cannot lawfully exercise sovereignty over it,” it noted.
The task force also dismissed China’s assertion that its actions in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal are a legitimate exercise of law enforcement measures, noting that it has no basis in international law.
The NTF-WPS also expressed grave concern over the deliberate disinformation conducted through official channels that distort facts on the ground.
It also condemned China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine RORE to Ayungin Shoal that has put the lives of crew members involved in the mission.
The body said the systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significantly doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue.
It added that peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others.
“We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community,” NTF-WPS stressed.
Despite these developments, it added that the Philippines will continue to act in accordance with international law, particularly Unclos and the 2016 Arbitral Award.
“The Philippines will not be deterred from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones, including Ayungin Shoal which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf,” it said.
BFAR vessels water-cannoned in Bajo De Masinloc
EARLIER, the NTF-WPS condemned the CCG and CMM for the illegal and aggressive actions they carried out against the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels BRP Datu Sanday, BRP Datu Bankaw, and BRP Datu Tamblot while these ships were going about a humanitarian and support mission for 30 Filipino fishing vessels off Bajo De Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on December 9.
The mission involved the distribution of fuel subsidies and grocery packs to fishermen manning these vessels.
“Based on the reports received, as the BFAR vessels approached 1.4 to 1.9 nautical miles from Bajo De Masinloc, the CCG ships utilized water cannons to obstruct and prevent BFAR vessels from approaching the Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the oil subsidy and grocery packs. The water cannons had been used at least eight times at the time of reporting. Additionally, the CMM vessels are reported to have engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed what is understood to be a Long-range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against the BFAR vessels—causing severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew. Water cannon action(s) have resulted in significant damage to BFAR vessel Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment, as it was directly and deliberately targeted by the CCG,” the NTF-WPS said.
The task force also denounced the deployment of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to disperse and drive away Filipino fishing vessels awaiting the distribution of fuel subsidies and food supplies from the BFAR ships.
Preventing the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane, the task force stressed.
“Moreover, Filipino fishermen have reported and documented the CCG launching a small boat early this morning [December 9] to illegally install a floating barrier at the southeast entrance of Bajo De Masinloc. The actions of CCG and CMM hindered the BFAR vessel from accessing the entrance of the shoal,” it added.
The NTF-WPS noted that Bajo De Masinloc is a high-tide feature with territorial sea, per the 2016 Arbitral Award.
It forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution.
The Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and its territorial sea.
The 2016 Arbitral Award has also clarified that Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the water of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law.
“China’s illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] Unclos and the Arbitral Award,” NTF-WPS added.
It insisted that these Chinese vessels leave Bajo De Masinloc immediately.
“We demand that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities and uphold the principles of international law and desist from actions that would infringe on Philippine sovereignty and endanger the lives and livelihood of Filipino fishermen who have traditionally fished in the area. The NTF-WPS remains committed to protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea,” NTF-WPS concluded.
Image credits: Philippine Coast Guard via AP