AFP: Chinese ‘fishermen’ used vs PH in two ways
When they are not directly supporting the China Coast Guard (CCG) in blocking supplies to a key Philippine outpost in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Chinese maritime militia (CMM) posing as fishermen are harming the country’s marine environment, according to the Western Command (Wescom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
There is a “resurgence” of CMM vessels swarming in many parts of the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), raising concerns regarding “the potential implications for Philippines’ maritime security, fisheries conservation, territorial integrity and preservation of the marine environment,” Wescom said on Thursday.
“These activities have been a source of tension in the WPS and have contributed to instability in the region,” it added.
Wescom’s aerial patrols on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 recorded the presence of 23 CMM boats at Rozul (Iroquois) Reef, five at Escoda (Sabina) Shoal and two at Baragatan (Nares) Bank, all within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Escoda Shoal serves as a navigational marker leading to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where the CCG frequently harass Filipino vessels delivering supplies to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, the military’s outpost in that part of the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s EEZ.
There were 33 CMM ships spotted in Rozul Reef alone during a routine air patrol on Aug. 24.
“The repeated swarming incidents in both Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal emphasize the continuous violation of Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its western border,” Wescom said.
Previous swarming incidents have been followed by reports of massive coral harvesting, “further raising concerns about their harmful environmental impact,” it added.
In July, the Navy discovered damaged corals in the reef during an underwater inspection after driving away 25 CMM vessels. But a more detailed assessment is needed, according to Wescom spokesperson Cmdr. Ariel Coloma.
National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said in a television interview on Wednesday that the “true colors” of these Chinese vessels “have been bared to the world, that they are not fishing vessels.”
In the latest incident on Friday last week, four CMM “fishing” boats assisted four CCG ships in trying to box in two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels escorting two wood-hulled supply boats headed to Ayungin.
Malaya said the CMM are part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) structure. “They are instruments of Chinese power in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Malaya said the government was considering ways of dealing with the CMM, including the deployment of more Navy and coast guard ships to the West Philippine Sea.
“There are a lot of options that are on the table, which I cannot disclose right now, but we are also considering a change of strategy,” he said.
Carpio reacts to Padilla
“But let me just state for the record that we will not stop fighting for what is ours and we will continue of course to supply our troops of needed supplies and provisions in Ayungin Shoal,” Malaya said.
Reacting to the Wescom’s report, the Chinese Embassy in Manila asserted Beijing’s claim to the waterway.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly) and their adjacent waters,” it said.
Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio told the Inquirer that whether the CCG was a military or civilian agency, it should still respect the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea and stop harassing Filipino vessels.
“Chinese [government] ships, navy or civilian, must respect [Philippine] EEZ,” he said.
In reality, Carpio said the CCG is under China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) which is controlled by the Chinese military. The PAP is part of the People’s Liberation Army chain of command under the Central Military Commission of the CCP headed by President Xi Jinping, he said.
‘Civilian in nature’
The former Supreme Court justice was responding to Sen. Robin Padilla’s statements during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the CCG, just like other coast guard units around the world, was “civilian in nature.”
Padilla said the presence of a US Navy plane that was monitoring the harassment by the Chinese of the Ayungin resupply mission could escalate the conflict in that area.
But coast guard officials at the hearing said the escalation had began years earlier and it was the Chinese side that were responsible.
This year alone, the CCG used dangerous ship maneuvers that could have caused collisions, water cannons and military-grade lasers against the PCG.
Such actions have prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to lodge 43 diplomatic protests with Beijing so far this year.
China utilizes the CCG and its other militia vessels to enforce its sweeping claim to the South China Sea demarcated by its 10-dash line, despite being nullified by the 2016 arbitral award which reaffirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its EEZ.
The United States, United Kingdom, European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, and Canada are all supporting the award.