‘They’re very aggressive’: Esperon says China militia boats escalate presence inside PH EEZ
MANILA, Philippines—There was “an unusual presence” of Chinese militia ships near Philippine-occupied Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal for a week when China Coast Guard vessels blocked and fired water cannon at Philippine civilian resupply boats heading there, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Thursday (Nov. 18).
“For almost one week we were puzzled, their presence was unusual in Ayungin,” Esperon told reporters, speaking partly in Filipino. “Usually in the area, there would be two Chinese maritime militia only but for the last week there were 19,” he said.
Esperon, who also heads the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea, said security officials had the same observation on Philippine-occupied outpost Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, where at least 45 Chinese militia boats had been lingering in the past week.
“In Pag-asa, record numbers, too—45—record number for the year,” said Esperon. “So they’re very aggressive, so we are protesting,” he said. He said previous count of Chinese militia boats near Pag-asa didn’t exceed 20.
His revelation came after the Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday condemned China Coast Guard’s hostile acts—blocking and using water cannons—against Philippine boats delivering supplies to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
VIDEO: China coast guard fires water cannon at Philippine civilian boats delivering supplies in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Video from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. pic.twitter.com/E8jroTbpQD
— Frances Mangosing 🇵🇭 (@FMangosingINQ) November 18, 2021
Filipino troops are stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, a transport ship intentionally grounded in 1999 to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Navy. Ayungin Shoal—which is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone—is around 20 nautical miles from Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, one of the features seized and occupied by China in the Kalayaan Island Group which it converted into military outposts.
A senior Philippine military official said the boats harassed by China coast guard ships were tasked with ferrying personnel to repair BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War 2 landing ship tank but which remained to be a commissioned Philippine Navy vessel.
“We are slowly repairing the BRP Sierra Madre because rust is eating up the ship,” said the official. “We have to maintain it because it’s a commissioned vessel still,” he said partly in Filipino.
The military uses civilian boats to ferry supplies to Filipino soldiers deployed to areas in the Philippines’ EEZ “to ease tensions” as these missions are being closely watched by the China Coast Guard, which patrols the area to assert Chinese claim of ownership in complete disregard of Philippine protests.
The Philippine boats had to abort their mission last Nov. 16 and return to Puerto Princesa in Palawan province after one was damaged by the water cannon attack by the Chinese coast guard ship. No one was hurt in the incident.
Esperon said the resupply missions will continue despite the threat of more harassment by China.