China harasses more PH boats; Christmas convoy to WPS aborted
MANILA, Philippines — Tensions in the West Philippine Sea escalated on Sunday after a Chinese ship fired water cannons on two resupply vessels and a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boat, ramming and causing “serious engine damage” to one of them.
Meanwhile, a civilian convoy journeying to bring Christmas gifts to Filipino troops stationed in remote outposts in the West Philippine Sea cut short its trip and headed back to El Nido in Palawan province on Sunday after being “shadowed” by at least four Chinese vessels.
The latest harassment, coming just a day after a similar incident involving three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels in another shoal, happened near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where Philippine supply vessels Unaizah May 1 and ML Kalayaan and the PCG’s BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409) were water-cannoned by Chinese Coast Guard Vessel (CCGV) 5204, while ML Kalayaan’s engine was damaged after it was rammed, said Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for West Philippine Sea concerns.
ML Kalayaan is owned by the Kalayaan municipal government in Palawan. It replaced the Unaizah May 2 after the latter was damaged in a collision with a Chinese ship during an Oct. 22 resupply mission.
BRP Cabra likewise sustained damage to its mast after being “directly targeted by the full strength of the water cannon,” according to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTS-WPS).
All three vessels were en route to deliver food and other supplies to Philippine forces stationed in the long-marooned BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as a territorial outpost in Ayungin Shoal.
ML Kalayaan was later towed back to Ulugan Bay in southern Palawan by another Philippine vessel, BRP Sindangan, Tarriela said, while Unaizah May 1 successfully reached BRP Sierra Madre for its resupply mission “despite these extreme and reckless actions.”
The harassment on Sunday forced a civilian-led convoy also sailing toward other Philippine outposts in the West Philippine Sea to call off its supply mission and return to El Nido.
The convoy, organized by the “Atin Ito” (This is Ours) Coalition, said late Sunday afternoon that it had to “err on the side of caution” and turn around from its course.
The convoy reported that Chinese vessels started to follow its mother ship MV Kapitan Felix Oca at 3:40 p.m., south of Kayumanggi Bank, although the group initially believed it was traveling in the opposite direction.
From that point on, the group said it was “constantly shadow[ed by] four Chinese vessels composed of two Chinese Navy ships, one China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and one Chinese cargo ship.”
Earlier in the day, Akbayan president Rafaela David said the convoy had decided to proceed directly to neighboring Lawak and Patag Islands to avoid a confrontation with the Chinese near Ayungin Shoal.
David serves as commander of the three-day mission, which had planned to approach the shoal to deliver presents and provisions to soldiers on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era warship grounded there as a Philippine outpost.
The mission was intended as a “profound display of solidarity and patriotism” to assert the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea or the waters within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
The Atin Ito Coalition is composed of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Center for Agrarian Reform for Empowerment and Transformation, Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, Team Manila Lifestyle, Akbayan Youth and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines.
The convoy left Manila on Friday carrying donated food packs, canned goods, rice, hygiene kits, electronic gadgets, solar lamps and toys, among others.
More than 40 volunteers, composed of youth and student leaders, as well as representatives of fisherfolk organizations, joined the mission.
On Sunday evening, Atin Ito communications director Emman Hizon explained that the captain of the group’s main boat, “based on his wisdom, expertise, and experience, deemed that it is no longer safe to continue with the voyage due to the constant shadowing conducted by four Chinese vessels.”
“As much as Atin Ito wants to continue with the mission, we have to respect the captain’s decision,” Hizon said.
David said: “If it were only up to us and the Philippine Coast Guard, we would like to proceed with the Christmas convoy. However, we recognize and respect the expertise and experience of the captain.”
“Despite the recent developments, the spirits of Atin Ito’s contingent remain high, and safety measures are diligently upheld,” David had said.
In its statement, the coalition said it “vehemently deplores” the actions of the CCG against the Philippine resupply mission.
“Not only does it endanger the safety of our civilian supply mission but also runs counter to the principles of human rights that the international community upholds, and our rightful claims to the West Philippine Sea,” David said in the statement.
The NTS-WPS condemned what it called “China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission that has put the lives of our people at risk.”
CCG said in a statement that two Philippine vessels, ignoring repeated warnings, had “illegally entered [that area] without the approval of the Chinese government,” while the Unaizah May 1 “made an unprofessional and dangerous sudden turn, intentionally ramming into China Coast Guard vessel 21556.”
However, Tarriela posted on X that the “M/L Kalayaan suffered serious engine damage. Contrary to China Coast Guard disinformation, UM1 (Unaizah May 1) was rammed by a CCG vessel.”
“The systematic and consistent manner in which the People’s Republic of China carries out these illegal and irresponsible actions puts into question and significant doubt the sincerity of its calls for peaceful dialogue,” the task force also said. “We demand that China demonstrate that it is a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community.”
Several countries, including the United States and Japan, condemned and expressed concern over the latest harassment by China.
“The [United States] stands with the Philippines and partners in vehemently condemning [China’s] repeated illegal and dangerous actions against [Philippine] vessels, including disrupting the resupply mission to the Sierra Madre today,” US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said on Sunday on X.
In their posts on social media, the ambassadors of the United Kingdom, European Union Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea also expressed concern over China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea and expressed support for the Philippines.