The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) filed a diplomatic protest on February 14 over the recent “aggressive” activities of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) for directing military-grade laser light against the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, West Philippine Sea (WPS).

DFA condemned the “shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges by CCG vessel 5205 against PCG vessel BRP Malapascua.”

The government agency asserted that these actions imperil Philippine sovereignty and an infringement of jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“The Philippines has the prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China does not have law enforcement rights or powers in and around Ayungin Shoal or any part of the Philippine EEZ,” said DFA Spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza in a statement.

According to the PCG, the incident happened last February 6 when the Chinese vessel with bow number 5205 flashed the green laser light twice toward the Philippine vessel BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) during its rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The PCG further claimed that the CCG vessel made “dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter,” and the laser-pointing caused temporary blindness among PCG crew members at the bridge.

“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP SIERRA MADRE is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,” said PCG in a statement.

China counters

After PCG reported the incident in Ayungin Shoal, China justified the laser-pointing as “professional and restrained” in defense of their country’s sovereignty and maritime order.  They pinned the blame on the Philippine vessels for intruding on the Ren’ai Reef, a part of China’s Nansha Islands.

In a statement on February 14, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin hoped for the Philippines to respect their territorial rights and avoid complicating the situation now that the issue is under diplomatic communication. 

“We hope the Philippine side will respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and avoid taking any actions that may exacerbate disputes and complicate the situation,” Wang said.

However, the 2016 arbitral ruling already rejected China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea due to the absence of evidence of the acclaimed 1940 nine-dash-line map and favored the Philippines’ sovereign rights on the disputed waters, which included the parts of the WPS.

Accordingly, China blatantly disregarded the international tribunal’s decision and insisted that WPS is part of their territory.

Malacañang responds

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to discuss reports of China pointing a military-grade laser against the Philippine Coast Guard on February 6.

The Chinese embassy confirmed that the ambassador showed up at Malacañang but did not provide further information. 

“They exchanged views on how to implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, strengthen dialogue and communication and properly manage maritime differences between China and the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement. 

The Department of Foreign affairs said that the acts of aggression by China are “disturbing and disappointing” as the report was made just a month after the President’s state visit to China where Marcos and China’s President Xi Jinping agreed to set up a direct communication line between DFA’s Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office and China’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

In diplomacy, the head of state summoning an ambassador is one of the highest levels of protest against a foreign government. 

Alluding to his first State of the Nation Address, Marcos Jr. vowed that his government will not give up “even a single square inch of Philippine territory to any foreign power” and the Philippines shall continue being “a friend to all and an enemy to none”

Other nations back PH

Many nations, including the United States (US) and Japan, extended their support to the Philippines over the Ayungin Shoal dispute with China, reiterating the 2016 International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruling in The Hague.

“As reflected in an international tribunal’s legally binding decision in July 2016, the People’s Republic of China has no lawful maritime claims to Second Thomas Shoal. The United States reiterates, under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and we call upon the PRC to abide by the ruling,” the US statement read.

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea,” it added.

The US further warned that they would defend the Philippines following the commitments under the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.  It must be noted that the upcoming Balikatan military exercises under the VFA are set on April 24 to 27 this year.

On the other hand, the Japanese Embassy in Manila also expressed serious concerns over China’s “dangerous behaviors” against the Philippine vessels and opposed actions that fuel the tension.

“All states should respect maritime order based on international law, particularly UNCLOS, and recall that the 2016 Arbitral Award is final and legally binding. We firmly oppose any action that increases tensions,” said Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko in a tweet.

UNCLOS, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, confirmed that the 200 nautical miles of the territorial sea are under the Philippines’ EEZ.

The Philippines also posed a possible VFA with Japan and the Tripartite Defense Agreement between the US-Philippines and Japan.

Fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA lambasted these military pacts as it will only pave way to more cases of harassment and further plundering of our resources


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