Locsin sees Chinese vessels harassing PH ships up close

Locsin sees Chinese vessels harassing PH ships up close

/ 05:38 AM October 07, 2023

ENVOY ONBOARD With a China Coast Guard vessel passing in front of him, former ForeignSecretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Manila’s special envoy to Beijing, sees for himself
the harassment of a Filipino supply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal on Oct. 4. —Frances Mangosing/ PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

ENVOY ONBOARD With a China Coast Guard vessel passing in front of him, former Foreign
Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Manila’s special envoy to Beijing, sees for himself
the harassment of a Filipino supply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal on Oct. 4. —Frances Mangosing/ PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

ABOARD THE BRP CABRA, WEST PHILIPPINE SEA—A Chinese Navy warship stalked the BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), one of the two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships escorting Filipino boats bringing supplies to a small garrison at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal this week.

“The Chinese Navy is already there?” Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, commander of the PCG District Palawan, wondered aloud as he watched from the bridge of the BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409), the other escort ship.


“That seems so close,” added Cmdr. Emmanuel Dangate, the patrol ship’s skipper.


At the bridge deck, a high-profile guest in a bright yellow jacket was watching Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels weave in and out in front of the Cabra under the blazing sun.

“I’m observing, so when I talk, it’s from experience,” former Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., the Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom and the special envoy to China, told the Inquirer.

It was the first time that a senior Philippine diplomat had accompanied a supply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era US warship that was intentionally run aground on Ayungin to serve as the Philippine military’s outpost in that part of the West Philippine Sea.

Locsin appeared to be taking his own pictures or videos of the Chinese vessels with his cell phone camera and keenly observed the maneuvers of both sides.

Special envoy

President Marcos appointed him as special envoy for “special concerns” to Beijing on Aug. 16, about 10 days after a Chinese coast guard ship blasted one of the Filipino supply boats headed to Ayungin with a water cannon.

Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil said that Locsin’s appointment was intended to “boost bilateral relations” between the Philippines and China.


Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian welcomed Locsin’s appointment and looked forward to his “positive role in managing the differences” between the two countries.

Wednesday’s supply mission was also the first time that a Chinese Navy warship went “the closest ever” to a PCG vessel escorting the supply boats.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Aba (630)— the same warship that rescued a Filipino fisherman in distress in the West Philippine Sea last month—came within 800 meters behind the Sindangan and loitered there during the mission but it did not actively take part in harassing the supply boats and the PCG vessels.

Forced to stop

Over the next several hours that day, the Chinese coast guard and militia vessels harassed and surrounded the PCG vessels as they headed toward Ayungin.

The PCG ships were forced to stop about 14 kilometers from the Sierra Madre to avoid slamming into the Chinese coast guard vessels that blocked their paths. They had to reverse gear at near collision point as the Chinese ships cut into their paths.

China Coast Guard (CCG) 21556 came within one meter of the BRP Sindangan, the “closest dangerous maneuver,” by any Chinese coast guard ship against a Philippine ship, Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said at a press briefing in Puerto Princesa City on Friday. “We condemn the behavior of the Chinese coast guard vessel. They have been violating international law, particularly the collision regulations,” he said.

The CCG 21551 came as close as 2 meters of the Cabra.

The two supply boats—Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 2—reached the Sierra Madre and unloaded fresh provisions as the two escort vessels were being harassed by Chinese vessels.

Ayungin is well within the country’s 370-km EEZ, where the Philippines has sovereign rights. In 2016, the international arbitral tribunal ruled that China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, had no legal or historical basis.

The coast guard vessels of the two sides exchanged radio challenges to assert their territorial rights. Chinese militia vessels did not respond to the repeated radio challenges from the Cabra. A small team collated information at the bridge and reported it back to the PCG headquarters for real-time updates. Locsin’s presence aboard the Cabra was only made known to journalists when the PCG ships set sail from a Palawan port on Tuesday morning.

One security official familiar with planning the voyage told the Inquirer that it was a challenge to keep his trip under wraps so that China would not find out that the former foreign secretary was joining the mission.

The Chinese might change their behavior if they had known in advance that Locsin was on board one of the PCG ships, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak with reporters.

In all, four CCG ships and five Chinese maritime militia vessels harassed the Filipino supply mission.

Tarriela said he did not want to speculate why China deployed one of its navy ships close to the PCG vessels. In the past, the PLAN ships kept a distance of about five kilometers from Philippine vessels, he said.

‘Provocative act’

“As you might have noted, we’re not deploying gray ships. We’re also expecting that the PLA Navy won’t be deploying warships because we believe that’s a provocative act,” he said.

Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy planes were seen flying overhead during the supply run. Chinese and US Navy surveillance planes were also briefly spotted during the operation.

Chinese vessels closely guarded the PCG ships until the two boats returned past 7 p.m., after completing their mission. Locsin, at the bridge deck, waited patiently until he saw the two boats show up over the dark horizon, after a long day of a cat-and-mouse game in the high seas.

The four Philippine vessels then made their way back to Palawan, reaching the port on Thursday morning.

Tarriela said during Friday’s press briefing that the PCG had selected the best skippers to lead the supply missions because of the growing dangerous blocking maneuvers by the Chinese.

“This (Oct. 4 incident) is the closest to a tragedy that we have ever experienced,” he said.

Chosen for high skills

Tarriela said PCG skippers assigned to the Palawan area were chosen for their high maritime navigational skills.

“[The Chinese boats] cut our paths of voyage, and had our commanding officers not been skilled, there’s a possibility we would be blamed for ramming CCG vessels,” he said.

He said that Chinese Air Force surveillance aircraft spotted near Royal Captain Shoal was a spy plane.

READ: China hits PH’s Ayungin Shoal resupply mission anew

“We still don’t know its objectives,” Tarriela said.

He said that despite the persistent attempts by the CCG and the Chinese maritime militia to stop Filipino vessels heading to Ayungin, “you have the commitment of the PCG that we will not get tired of supporting the resupply missions.”

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Tarriela also said the Philippines had no obligation to inform China about these operations because these are being conducted within Philippine territory.

TAGS: Ayungin Shoal, boat, China, Philippines, vessel

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