PH boats harassed by China complete supply mission
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine boats harassed by China on their way to deliver supplies to Filipino troops have been harassed again but were able to complete their mission, reaching Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday (Nov. 23).
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the resupply boats arrived at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin around 11 a.m. “without any untoward incident” but went through another form of “intimidation and harassment” by the China Coast Guard.
The BRP Sierra Madre is a transport ship intentionally grounded in 1999 to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Navy. The Philippines occupies nine outposts in the Spratly Islands.
“The two civilian resupply boats manned by the Philippine Navy arrived at the Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal at 11 a.m. today without any untoward incident,” Lorenzana told reporters.
“There was a Chinese Coast Guard ship in the vicinity which sent a rubber boat with three persons near the Sierra Madre while our boats were unloading and took photos and videos,” he said.
Lorenzana said he told the Chinese ambassador “that we consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment.”
A Philippine military plane hovered above as the boats reached BRP Sierra Madre.
“They are presently unloading personnel and cargo. After a couple of days they will return to Oyster Bay,” Lorenzana said, referring to an area in Palawan province.
The resupply mission was aborted on Tuesday last week (Nov. 16) after Chinese vessels blocked and fired water cannons at the Philippine boats as these approached the shoal, a low-tide elevation inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
No one was hurt in the incident but the Philippine boats had to return to mainland Palawan after one of them suffered outrigger damage as a result of the water cannon attack.
After the damaged boat was fixed over the weekend, the same two boats harassed by Chinese vessels ventured out to sea on Monday (Nov. 22) morning to return to Ayungin.
Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian had earlier assured Lorenzana of safe passage for the Philippine boats after last week’s harassment by the China coast guard.
The Chinese ambassador, however, gave a condition for allowing the Philippine mission to go unimpeded: The boats had to sail without navy or coast guard escorts.
Maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal said the Philippines should not have yielded to the conditions of the Chinese.
“Ideally we should not be subject to any conditions, least of all conditions they impose,” he told Inquirer.net.
“Whether it raises tensions or not is their problem, it should never be ours. They are the ones who have no right to be there,” he went on.
“We should use whatever we wish, whether it is Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy or chartered vessels, but always showing clearly and publicly that it is a government vessel,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pivoted to a tight embrace of China, on Monday said the Philippines “abhors” the China coast guard harassment.
“We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership,” Duterte said at the Asean-China Summit.
The Chinese government insists that the Philippine boats “trespassed” Chinese waters, which are within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said last week that the China Coast Guard only “performed official duties in accordance with law” and upheld “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order.”
In 2016, a United Nations-backed arbitration court rejected China’s expansive but fictitious claims in the South China Sea.
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