DFA awaits probe of Ayungin incident
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has deferred any action on the incident in which Chinese ships prevented a fishing boat carrying Filipino journalists from going to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea to interview fishermen.
The DFA on Saturday said state agencies were investigating the incident and advised those who were planning to visit the maritime features within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to “coordinate” with the authorities.
“If proven to be true, the [DFA] will raise the matter with the Chinese government,” the department said in a brief statement. “In the meantime, the department is thankful that the crew and the Filipino vessel are safe.”
Chiara Zambrano, an ABS-CBN reporter, said they were headed to Ayungin Shoal on Thursday to interview Filipino fishermen and check on their situation amid hundreds of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in Julian Felipe Reef.
In her televised report, Zambrano said they noticed a white ship of the Chinese Coast Guard coming in their direction while they were in the area just 90 nautical miles off Palawan province, well within the country’s EEZ.
She said the boat operator decided to return to mainland Palawan since he could not understand the radio message of the Chinese ship.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines later said journalists should “exercise prudence in the course of their job,” spurring criticism from other journalists who said the military should have been there to protect Filipino citizens.
The journalism school faculty of the University of the Philippines said the Filipino journalists involved in the incident were only providing context in their reportage about the Chinese military mobilization in the West Philippine Sea.
“Whether or not China was aware of the presence of the ABS-CBN crew on coverage, the unprovoked threat of the use of force against an unarmed civilian vessel is prohibited under the United Nations Charter and customary international law,” faculty members said in a signed statement.
Several members of the House of Representatives also criticized the military for failing to ensure the safety of Filipinos within Philippine territory.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite slammed Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson for the AFP, for telling journalists to “exercise prudence in doing their job” while the military failed to do theirs.
“Instead of calling out the media, Arevalo should call the attention of the silent Palace which is feigning sleep. They should call out and drive away those who are encroaching on our territory,” Gaite said.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, the House national defense and security panel vice chair, agreed and said the military should not question the media’s performance of their duties when they fail to perform theirs.
“Instead of raising an issue of a journalist’s ‘insatiable desire to get ahead in reporting,’ the AFP should be more concerned that Filipinos were harassed in their area of responsibility. There should be an insatiable desire to get ahead in defending Filipinos and Philippine rights,” Biazon said on Twitter.
Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez agreed that diplomatic protests to Beijing were the “correct response to the intruders in our waters.”
In a statement, Alvarez maintained that the Chinese fishing militia were not seeking shelter from bad weather on Philippine-claimed reefs, but were “instruments of their gunboat diplomacy.”
—WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKA G. VALENZUELA AND JULIE M. AURELIO
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