DFA chief: China harassment a ‘daily situation’ for PH
MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo brought up the Philippines’ maritime tensions with China at a high-level security conference in Germany on Saturday, saying that China’s harassment of Filipino fishermen and the country’s coast guard was the “daily situation that we face.”
This was earlier confirmed by fishermen who appeared at a forum in Manila last week, as they recounted that on the day a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel, Chinese ships also drove them away from their traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.
Ukraine was the predominant discussion at the Munich Security Conference, with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealing anew for military aid against Russia’s invasion, while British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on world leaders to “double down” their support for the besieged country.
Japan and its neighbor South Korea met at the sidelines to discuss issues of mutual interest, while US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke out against China’s “deepened” ties with Russia amid its war on Ukraine.
Meanwhile at a panel discussion, a recorded video of which was released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Manalo reported China’s “cases of harassment” in the West Philippine Sea.
“[T]here are daily incidents, at least as far as we see it, of cases of harassment or land reclamation, which in many cases have been depriving the Philippines of the use of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” he said.
“It is these challenges which the Philippines and other countries in our region face, especially those with claims also in the South China Sea. [T]hat is more or less the daily situation that we face,” he added.
Manalo also met on the sidelines with Ambassador Fu Ying, vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of China.
He tweeted about that “broad and candid exchange,” saying that “We talked about the latest incidents around Ayungin Shoal and how to further strengthen relations while managing our maritime differences and regional security challenges in Indo-Pacific.”
At the discussion he attended, Manalo said the United Nations could further help create greater awareness on the importance of a rules-based maritime order, and its Security Council could initiate an open debate on “rule and order to prevail in the maritime domain and the South China Sea.”
“I think discussions like that would help create greater awareness of the importance of Unclos (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and also maintaining a rules-based order so that any disputes or conflicts are settled through the rule of law and through peaceful means and not through coercive measures or aggressive moves,” he said.
He noted the Philippines’ “resoundingly victorious 2016 arbitral award against China, [which] basically provides a mooring, at least as far as we’re concerned, for the maritime regime in the South China Sea, especially because it’s based on the Unclos.”
But while he asserted the country’s rights over its maritime territory, Manalo also said that “it’s a very complex situation [we face since] the Philippines and other countries in the region have very strong links with China on the economic and cultural front.”
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has yet to respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment on Manalo’s remarks.
‘They’re really driving us away’
Earlier last week, fishermen facing China’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea took part in a seminar on fishing rights led by the Peoples Development Institute.
In an interview with the Inquirer on the sidelines of that event last Thursday, they also shared videos documenting their recent experiences near Panatag (Scarborough Shoal).
On Feb. 6, when a Chinese ship aimed a laser at a PCG vessel near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, the fishermen said they were also harassed by the CCG, which deployed its personnel on two rubber boats to chase one of them out of Panatag Shoal.
“They shouted and honked at him. ‘No fishing inside! Go outside!’” fisherman Christopher de Vera, who witnessed the incident, said, adding that Chinese maritime militia vessels also surrounded their boats that day.
“Those are six Chinese militias… They’re just there,” he was recorded as saying in one of the videos.
“Two rubber boats are now chasing away one fisherman in a fishing boat inside [the lagoon] of Scarborough Shoal. They’re really driving us away, they don’t want us inside,” he said in another footage on the same incident.
“There have been so many [of these instances] that I could no longer keep track of them. We want to fish inside the lagoon, too. There’s more catch and we can seek shelter there during bad weather,” De Vera said.
He recalled that as early as 2016, the CCG was already directing a laser at them at Panatag Shoal.
“They first used a searchlight when we approached near the shoal at night. They later used a laser so we ducked for cover as our eyes went burning. The light was overwhelming and we went blind for a few minutes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero said on Sunday that the government should not have cold feet in dealing with China’s actions even as he opposed calls to remove the PCG as an attached agency of the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
Coast Guard transfer
“We shouldn’t be doing something out of fear that it might anger or be misinterpreted by China, which is trying to seize part of our territory,” he said.
“If you remove the (PCG) from the DOTr and transfer it to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), the first question is, what’s their difference with the Philippine Navy?” Escudero asked.
“Secondly, if we consider [PCG] as a military (unit), then we could no longer deny that the Philippine military will be up against China’s military in the West Philippine Sea. And the next step will be a declaration of war, which, I believe, nobody wants to happen,” he added.
The AFP also said on Sunday that its “troops are resolute in ensuring that the interests of the Filipino people in the West Philippine Sea are protected,” a day after President Marcos said the Philippines “will not lose one inch” of territory amid a fresh territorial spat between Manila and Beijing.
“Guided by the President’s vision, which he emphasized in his message yesterday, our troops will always be ready to provide a safer, more peaceful and progressive country,” it said in a statement.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND REUTERS
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