Duterte mum on Sino naval action vs PH media crew
President Duterte had nothing to say about a report that Chinese Navy ships had allegedly harassed a Filipino fishing boat carrying some journalists who were heading to a Philippine-occupied shoal in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to his spokesperson.
Harry Roque on Friday said Malacañang would “defer” to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of National Defense (DND) to comment on the latest incident involving Filipinos and Chinese after Manila protested against the presence of over 200 vessels belonging to China’s maritime militia at a reef within the country’s EEZ.
An ABS-CBN television crew on the fishing boat reported on Thursday that when they were about 6.5 kilometers off Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, they saw a Chinese Coast Guard vessel which radioed in English to ask the boat to identify itself.
As the boat operator could not speak English, he did not respond and decided to turn back to Palawan. The Chinese Coast Guard vessel with bow number 5101 “chased” the fishing boat for about an hour before turning around. About 145 miles from Palawan, two of the Chinese Navy’s Type 22 Houbei class fast-attack craft armed with missiles took over the chase for another 30 minutes before breaking away.
It could not be immediately confirmed whether it was the first time that Chinese Navy vessels had directly intimidated Filipino fishing boats in the West Philippine Sea.
In May 1995, a Philippine Navy ship carrying a group of foreign journalists invited by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on a trip to the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef was blocked by two Chinese fishing boats that carried crew members who were later reported to have been armed with assault rifles. A Chinese frigate was watching the standoff from a distance.
The military brought the journalists to see structures built by the Chinese on the reef, where China decades later constructed its biggest artificial island in the South China Sea (SCS).
The DND ordered the AFP’s Western Command (WesCom) to investigate Thursday’s incident.
In a statement, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the AFP was concerned over the “alleged harassment by Chinese PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Navy vessels and a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel” of a Filipino boat inside the country’s EEZ.
In a separate statement, the WesCom said it would “conduct an inquiry on the circumstances attendant to the alleged harassment of a Filipino watercraft” before taking “the next course of action.”
DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the results of the probe would be considered before any action is taken by the National Task Force for West Philippine Sea, the DFA, DND, and the Department of Transportation and other concerned agencies.
White hull, grey hull
Commenting on the actions of the Chinese Navy, Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of the Singapore Nanyang Technological University, said the latest incident clearly showed that the PLA Navy “has stepped up its involvement in concert with CCG and other forces, including maritime militia, in waters further out into the SCS, especially in the Spratlys.”
“It’s no longer just ‘white hull’ but a combination with ‘grey hull,’” he said on Twitter on Friday. “As part of the joint patrol framework involving CCG and other forces, such as maritime militia across Paracel and Spratly Islands, we can expect repeats.”
An online protest to mark the Philippines’ Day of Valor blasted China’s recent activities in the West Philippine Sea, including the swarming of the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef last month by more than 200 maritime militia vessels and the reported harassment of the Filipino fishing boat.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said such incidents resulted from “negligence in asserting our rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea” in the past years.
He said the Philippine government became “too generous” to China, because of its promise of grants and infrastructure, which it has yet to completely deliver.
China’s latest moves prove that it is “gradually taking control of the entire West Philippine Sea” and showed that it could cut off connections to Ayungin and Pag-asa, the largest island occupied by Filipinos in the disputed waters, Batongbacal said.“It can easily find, chase—and if it wants to—destroy and sink any of our boats,” he said.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said diplomatic protests filed by the DFA and strong statements by other officials would be “meaningless if the leader himself, President Duterte, shamelessly kneels before China, his longtime patron.” —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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