MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos convened yesterday his security and defense officials for a command conference at Malacañang where they discussed the disruption by the Chinese of a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, wherein one of its ships slightly hit a Philippine Coast Guard vessel during a “dangerous and provocative” maneuver
At the command conference, Marcos was reported to have expressed very serious concern about the incident last Sunday, as he ordered a swift probe while the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) lodged a diplomatic protest and summoned Beijing’s ambassador.
“The Philippine government views the latest aggression by China as a blatant violation of international law. China has no legal right or authority to conduct law enforcement operations in our territorial waters. We are taking this incident seriously at the highest level of government,” Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said at a press conference at the Palace after the command conference.
With Teodoro at the Palace press conference were Navy chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. and PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan.
“The President is taking this very, very seriously. The highest levels of government are giving serious weight to this incident, given the false narrative of China, given the more incredulous and aggressive behavior they display and given that we cannot tolerate this kind of action,” Teodoro said.
“But we are here to really decry in the strongest possible terms this egregious violation and illegal act within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and the obfuscation of the truth by China’s distorting the story to fit its own ends and the duplicity in claiming to be peaceful and friendly while resorting to these aggressive acts,” he said.
In a post on X, PCG-West Philippine Sea spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said their statement on Sunday’s incident was truthful and backed up by proof.
“We do not respond to lies, we only comment on facts. Our narrative is always backed up with compelling images and unedited videos,” he said.
“Additionally, we always adhere to international laws, as we believe in upholding ethical standards in all our actions,” Tarriela added.
DFA spokesperson Teresita Daza said the country has filed a fresh diplomatic protest against China over the latest incident in Ayungin Shoal.
Unaizah May 2, an Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted supply boat, and PCG Coast Guard vessel BRP Cabra were en route to Ayungin Shoal to deliver supplies to Filipino military detachment manning the Sierra Madre when they were “harassed” and “intentionally hit” by the China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels, the defense chief said.
Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz has been instructed to convey Manila’s protest to Beijing’s foreign ministry, according to Teodoro.
Adaci presented to the media video clips of two incidents of Chinese dangerous maneuver. He said the PCG vessel suffered some damage at the stern after being hit by a Chinese militia vessel.
Gavan, for his part, said they expect to complete the investigation in five days.
“As we speak, I have already issued the directive to our Commander, the Coast Guard District Palawan to conduct maritime incident investigation immediately,” Gavan said.
He said the probe would focus on determining the extent of damage to the Filipino vessels involved.
“But at this point, it is very clear that the two incidents are violations of Collision Regulations – the very regulation we, coast guards, are expected to enforce. So we find it unfortunate or ironic that the fellow coast guard will violate the law which they themselves are supposed to enforce,” he said.
“So, we’ll be submitting the report of our investigation through our department, the Department of Transportation, to the President for final disposition,” Gavan added.
But China said responsibility for Sunday’s incident “lies entirely with the Philippines.”
It accused the PCG vessel of “deliberately” stirring up trouble by making a reverse in a “premeditated manner” into a Chinese vessel.
Teodoro said Filipinos deserve “undistorted answers” from the government of China.
“Because, once again we repeat – they have neither jurisdiction or authority to conduct any sort of governmental operations within our 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. And no justification they can give will stand the test of credence before our own people and, more importantly, before the whole world,” he said.
Ayungin Shoal is located about 105 nautical miles from Palawan. China is also claiming the shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao.
National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the Chinese vessels forced the collisions with Philippine boats as shown on videos and photos of the incident.
“I think it’s very clear from what we showed you today that the provocative actions are on the part of China. It’s not the Philippines that’s increasing the tensions. It is China that’s increasing tensions in the West Philippine Sea,” Malaya said.
The Unaiza May 2 resupply boat was 13.5 nautical miles east-northeast from the grounded warship when the “provocative, irresponsible and illegal action of CCGV 5203 imperiled the safety of the crew of (Unaiza May 2).”
In the same resupply mission, Chinese Maritime Militia vessel 00003 jolted the port side of the PCG vessel MRRV 4409 while it was hovering 6.4 nautical miles northeast of Ayungin Shoal.
Malaya said the task force finds the development alarming enough for the DFA to summon the Chinese ambassador, stressing that the Philippines intends to send a “clear and unequivocal message” that what China did was unacceptable.
“There’s a collision already and as we’ve seen very clearly through photos and videos and as will be reported by our embedded media friends, that (China’s) actions were the ones that caused this collision,” Malaya said.
The NTF-WPS spokesman added that while the government is thankful no one was hurt, such incident might happen again if no proper action is taken against China.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) lauded the crewmen manning the resupply boats and declared that state forces would continue whatever it has to do to protect the Philippines’ territorial rights over the West Philippine Sea.
“What the Chinese vessels did was illegal and irresponsible. Illegal in the sense that their presence in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) is not authorized based on UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the arbitral award,” AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said.
Aguilar also stressed that the Chinese vessels violated the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea of 1972.
“It is irresponsible because they acted recklessly, knowing very well the high probability of collision, which will put the lives of people in danger. Let our people know and the rest of the world know that this incident will not deter us from doing what is right,” he said.“ — Neil Jayson Servallos, Daphne Galvez, Evelyn Macairan