DFA summons Chinese envoy over Ayungin incident
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Monday summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian over Beijing’s actions at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Saturday, when China Coast Guard (CCG) ships fired water cannons at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel and a boat used by the Philippine Navy.
The summons was at the level of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) — unlike in February when it was President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who called Huang to Malacañang, eight days after CCG Vessel No. 5205 directed a military-grade laser at PCG ship BRP Malapascua on Feb. 6.
The President was in Malolos City, Bulacan, on Monday, leading the distribution of government aid to flood victims. When asked about Saturday’s incident, Mr. Marcos said he would soon hold a command conference to tackle that matter.
In a joint press briefing with the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro had conveyed to Huang on Monday the Philippines’ “strong protest” over the incident.
Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz has handed a note verbale to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Daza said.
This brings to 35 the number of notes verbales this year that Manila has sent Beijing, according to the DFA — on top of 410 protests filed against China since 2020 over its actions in the West Philippine Sea.
In Bulacan, Marcos said Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo sent Huang on Monday a note verbale, including pictures and videos of the Ayungin Shoal incident.
“We will see what their reply will be,” the President said.
Unable to reach China
Daza said Lazaro also called on China to order its vessels to stop their “illegal actions” against Philippine ships and to comply with its obligation under international law — including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration upholding the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“During the summon, the Philippines through the DFA expressed disappointment that the DFA was unable to reach its counterpart [through] the maritime communication mechanism for several hours while the incident was occurring,” Daza said.
In his state visit to China in January, Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a “direct communication mechanism” between their foreign offices to prevent “miscommunication and miscalculation” in the event of any maritime incident.
Both leaders would have access to this hotline to avoid “any possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have,” Marcos said at that time.
According to Daza, Lazaro told Huang that the Philippines expects China to “reciprocate with the same sense of urgency” in situations such as Saturday’s incident.
Furthermore, Lazaro noted that China’s actions are contrary to the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea — as set by the International Maritime Organization — in which states are required “to take steps necessary to assure safety at sea and prevent collisions.”
‘David vs Goliath’
For his part, Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council, said the Philippines “will never abandon Ayungin Shoal. We are committed to Ayungin Shoal.”
Malaya made this assertion after China told the Philippines on Monday to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin. In 1999, the Philippines intentionally grounded the warship to stake its claim there.
In a statement on Monday, China Coast Guard said it had earlier told Manila not to send ships and “illegal construction materials” to the grounded vessel.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said on Monday that the “Philippines promised several times to tow [the grounded vessel] away, but has yet to act,” adding that the China Coast Guard’s actions were “appropriate law enforcement measures,” and its maneuvers, “professional, restrained and beyond reproach.”
Malaya said: “The BRP Sierra Madre is an active Philippine Navy commissioned vessel and we will continue to resupply it… It is our right to bring whatever is necessary to maintain the station and to ensure that our troops are properly provisioned.”
AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said one of the two supply boats used by the Navy was able to send only half of the 17 tons of food, water, and other supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre.
Saturday’s incident had the “most number” of Chinese vessels deployed during a resupply mission to Ayungin in recent memory, Malaya said.
“This was like a David vs Goliath situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Marcos should recall the Philippine ambassador to China and downgrade the embassy there, instead of just filing another diplomatic protest over the incident.
“We must take more drastic actions, instead of filing the usual diplomatic protest note,” he said, adding that he would file a resolution condemning the incident and calling for the downgrading of the country’s diplomatic representation with China, “which would effectively shrink our ties with Beijing.”
But the Philippines observes a one-China policy with Beijing, in accordance with their joint communique of June 9, 1975 — in contrast to its relations with Taiwan, which does not include maintaining an embassy in Taipei or Manila.
The 1975 communique, which gives due recognition to the People’s Republic of China as “the sole legal government of China,” also stipulates, among other things, that both Manila and Beijing “settle all disputes by peaceful means” and “agree that all foreign aggression and subversion and all attempts by any country to control any other country or to interfere in its internal affairs are to be condemned.”
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas of the Makabayan bloc said the government was now at a “critical point… to stand with the Filipino people and end this one-sided diplomatic dance with China.”
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said the Ayungin Shoal incident “reminds us that the Philippine government still fails to completely recover our territorial waters from China.”
In his statement, Mayor Roberto del Mundo of Kalayaan town in Palawan province, which covers the area of Ayungin Shoal, said: “We lead the international community in condemning the unlawful actions of China’s ships against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea.”