‘Leave shoal,’ China told in 151st Marcos protest

‘Leave shoal,’ China told in 151st Marcos protest

05:30 AM May 03, 2024

‘NOT ONLY SHOCKING BUT APPALLING’ A frame grab from video footage released by the Philippine Coast Guard shows its ship, the BRP Bagacay, being hit by water cannon from Chinese coast guard vessels near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Also hit on its way to the shoal was the BRP Bankaw of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. —AFP water cannon armed attack

‘NOT ONLY SHOCKING BUT APPALLING’ A frame grab from video footage released by the Philippine Coast Guard shows its ship, the BRP Bagacay, being hit by water cannon from Chinese coast guard vessels near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Also hit on its way to the shoal was the BRP Bankaw of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Thursday demanded that China “immediately” leave Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag or Scarborough Shoal) and its vicinity as it protested the dangerous water cannon assault by its coast guard on two government vessels during a humanitarian mission at the shoal this week.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) conveyed the Philippines’ protest against the Chinese actions near Panatag to Chinese Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong, who was summoned by the DFA on Thursday.


The Philippines is protesting against China’s “harassment, ramming, swarming, shadowing and blocking dangerous maneuvers, use of water cannons, and other aggressive actions” against vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) that were en route to Bajo de Masinloc last Tuesday, the DFA said.


READ: China water cannons 2 PH vessels in Scarborough Shoal anew

The DFA said that for this year until April 9, the Philippines has filed 17 diplomatic protests against China.

Thursday’s diplomatic protest was in addition to the 150 others that had been filed against Chinese illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea since the start of the Marcos administration on July 1, 2022.

Damage assessment

A PCG officer said that the force of the water cannon bursts could be “fatal.”

“China’s aggressive actions, particularly its water cannon use, caused damage to vessels of PCG and BFAR,” the DFA said after meeting the Chinese Embassy’s second-highest official.

READ: China used ‘very fatal’ water cannon pressure in latest assault—PCG


“The Philippines demanded that Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc and its vicinity immediately,” it added.

PCG commandant Adm. Ronnie Gil Gavan on Thursday said that he had directed an immediate damage assessment on BRP Bagacay (MRRV-4410), a 44-meter multirole response vessel, that was attacked by the Chinese with water cannons last Tuesday.

Rear Adm. Armando Balilo, the PCG spokesperson, said that the Bagacay’s superstructure, or the ship’s main area, was damaged and that the ship’s “structural integrity” was under evaluation to determine the needed repairs.

Crew members of the ship were also provided with medical checkups to “ensure their well-being.”

“Our personnel know the risks, yet they continue to fulfill their duties as public servants,” Balilo said in a statement. “We want to make sure that the command provides their needs while in the performance of the PCG’s mandated functions.”

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, waters within the 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, which includes Bajo de Masinloc.

Embassy justifies action

These sweeping claims have been invalidated by an arbitral tribunal that upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to these waters in 2016, which was rejected by Beijing.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said its coast guard’s actions were justified because the PCG and BFAR vessels went near Bajo de Masinloc “without Chinese permission, which seriously infringed on China’s sovereignty.”

It said the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Dao, “has always been China’s territory” and that China “has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Dao and its adjacent waters.”

“China Coast Guard took necessary measures to expel them in accordance with the law. The operations on the ground were professional, rational, reasonable and legitimate,” it added.

The Chinese Embassy also dismissed the National Security Council’s statement that China obstructed the humanitarian mission to deliver food and fuel to Filipino fishermen.

“According to the temporary special arrangements [made] by the Chinese side in 2016, Filipino fishermen can fish with small fishing boats in designated waters except the lagoon of Huangyan Dao,” said the embassy, adding that all Philippine government vessels and aircraft should refrain from entering the waters within 22 km (12 nautical miles) and the corresponding air space of the shoal.

That distance refers to the territorial sea of a coastal nation, which Beijing insists on applying to Panatag, which the 2016 arbitral award also rejected.

‘Special arrangements’

The embassy said these “special arrangements” were “unilaterally disrupted” by the Marcos administration, which dispatched its coast guard ships and official vessels to “intrude” into the waters of the shoal and “encouraged the Filipino fishermen to challenge the arrangements to help promote its political agenda.”

It did not give details of these arrangements.

It was the first time that the Chinese Embassy had mentioned the alleged “special arrangements” and that these were reached during the first year of the Duterte administration.

It was unclear from the statement whether these arrangements were part of the “gentleman’s agreement” that both the Chinese foreign ministry and former President Rodrigo Duterte had confirmed separately last month.

A foreign diplomat who is familiar with the discussions on the gentleman’s agreement recently told a group of reporters, including from the Inquirer, that the deal was made with Duterte in November 2021.

Koko suggestion

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III suggested that, as regards the water cannon attacks by the Chinese coast guard, the PCG should respond in kind.

“Do our PCG vessels have their own water cannons? They should also have, because we should be able to water cannon, too, those who we believe are violating our laws and sovereignty rights up to our EEZ,” Pimentel told reporters.

He said water cannons are standard coast guard vessel equipment used to drive away intruders violating maritime laws.

“Why they haven’t thought about it when it has been a decades-old standard?” Pimentel added.

In a statement, Sen. Francis Tolentino said that some PCG vessels are equipped with water cannons.

But he said their use was guided by policies of the Department of Transportation and “approved by the President, which would be balanced by national security concerns.”

Why not retaliate?

Sen. Robinhood Padilla also earlier suggested using water cannons against attacks in the West Philippine Sea.

“Whenever supplies are delivered to the BRP Sierra Madre, Philippine vessels are hit with water cannons. I’ve said it many times before, why don’t we use water cannons too?” he said at a press briefing on April 15, a day after the China Coast Guard reportedly monitored and tailed the mapping vessel BRP Hydrographer Ventura and its PCG escort BRP Gabriela Silang en route to Bajo de Masinloc.

“Why do we always have to be at a disadvantage? Don’t we have water cannons so we, too, can retaliate?” Padilla added.

He later said that cooler heads should prevail and that the issue should be handled through diplomacy.

“We cannot afford to join the chaos that is already happening in other parts of the world, such as in the Middle East and Eastern Europe,” Padilla said.

Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a radio interview on Thursday that the PCG understood the call for retaliation and lamented accusations from some Filipinos that their men were “cowards.”

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“What we need to realize is we need to deescalate the tension and we should not be the reason for China to say that we are the ones provoking them. They are going to elevate the tension once again and they are going to have an excuse to bring in more coast guard vessels, even their warships from the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy,” he explained. —WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS AND DEMPSEY REYES 

TAGS: Bajo de Masinloc, BFAR, Chinese embassy, DFA, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., PCG, Zhou Zhiyong

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