PH military opens probe on China ships’ chase of Filipino vessel in WPS
MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has launched an investigation into the reported pursuit of armed Chinese ships on a Filipino vessel carrying a news crew in the West Philippine Sea.
The probe was launched upon the instruction of the Department of Defense (DND), according to agency spokesperson Arsenio Andolong.
“We are concerned for the safety of anyone — unarmed civilians — at sea. As such, we view the report with concern,” Andolong said in a statement.
“The Defense Department has directed the AFP through its Western Command to investigate, gather, and validate all the relevant facts on the incident,” he added.
The DND official said the “outcome” of the investigation will be “used to coordinate any appropriate action” through the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and “engagement” among the DND, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Transportation, and other concerned agencies.
In a separate statement, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the military is concerned over the “alleged harassment by Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy vessels and a Chinese Coast Guard vessel as reported by a team of journalists onboard a watercraft within our EEZ [exclusive economic zone].”
“Through the AFP’s Western Command, we are conducting investigation and verifications to establish what transpired,” he added.
On Thursday, ABS-CBN reported that one of its news teams was aboard a civilian vessel traveling across the West Philippine Sea near Palawan when a Chinese Coast Guard ship went in their direction before reaching Ayungin Shoal.
The Filipino vessel carrying the TV crew decided to return to Palawan but the China Coast Guard ship accelerated its speed and chased them for about an hour before it went away.
Two Chinese vessels armed with missiles eventually appeared and started to join the chase, according to the report.
Arevalo said the AFP has already coordinated with the reporter for the raw video clips or photographs of the incident in order to help the military in “[establishing] the circumstances” and for documentation purposes.
“While we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job,” he also said.
“The AFP is concerned with the safety and well-being of our Kababayans that we have been forthright and transparent in our reporting about the situation in our EEZ. We have accommodated members of media in our ships and aircraft to do their coverage so they can be protected while in the practice of their profession,” he added.
Arevalo then reiterated AFP’s “commitment to follow the dictates of the Constitution to protect the people and secure our sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
In November 2018, Chinese Coast Guard members also prevented a Filipino news crew from conducting interviews in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
This latest incident involving ABS-CBN’s news team comes as concerns grow over the lingering presence of Chinese vessels moored in the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines has already demanded that China withdraw the ships from the area or face a diplomatic protest “every day of delay” in their removal.