The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) believes that making the Filipino people and the international community aware of China’s “bullying behavior” in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is an effective way to counter their aggression.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) conducts a maritime domain awareness (MDA) flight over Ayungin Shoal and Aabina Shoals in the West Philippine Sea on Feb. 21, 2023. (Photo: National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea)
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG adviser of the Commandant for maritime security and PCG spokesman for West Philippine Sea, said publicizing China’s numerous aggressive actions in the WPS was the “difference-maker” under the current administration.
“The difference ng mga nakaraang taong circumstances na nangyayari sa West Philippine Sea at sa mga nakaraang linggo (The difference of the previous years’ circumstances in the West Philippine Sea from what has been happening in the past weeks) right after the visit of President [Ferdinand] Bongbong Marcos [Jr.] in China, all of the incidents happening right now, we are making it publicly available,” Tarriela said at the Saturday News Forum held in Quezon City.
“That’s why there is awareness among the Filipino people, among the media practitioners, and the international community is also aware of what the Chinese have been doing in the past weeks,” he added.
It is not new knowledge that China’s numerous aggressive actions in the WPS have long been happening such as swarming, forced barter of goods where Filipino fishermen are reportedly engaged by Chinese fishers to exchange their catch with noodles or liquor, water-hosing, and blockade formations among others.
Various concerned government agencies, such as the PCG, have reported these incidents albeit subtly but Tarriela has been the loudest and boldest voice by far to reveal these incidents in recent time, prompting other government agencies to protest them so China would be forced to react and take action “instead of being silent.”
“That’s why if we’re going to look at the behavior of China whenever file diplomatic protest and whenever we publicize their bullying behavior, you can actually hear Chinese Embassy saying something kapag pinublicize na natin (whenever we publicize it),” Tarriela said.
“For diplomatic protest, sometimes they’re just silent about it. But every time we make things publicly, saka sila lumalabas, nag-e-explain, nagju-justify (they go out, explain, and justify),” he added.
“I think we are in the right direction right now with all those occurrences of bullying behavior, harassment of Filipino fishermen that the PCG can document. Once we publicize it, we are expecting that the Chinese will react,” he noted.
But Tarriela knows the government needs to step up, too. He urged legislators to support the PCG modernization program so they can acquire more assets and better patrol the country’s waters, especially the WPS.
Last Feb. 21, the PCG conducted a maritime domain awareness (MDA) flight over Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Sabina Shoals where they saw at least 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels anchored in and around the vicinity of the shoals.
This came more than two weeks after a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel directed a laser towards BRP Malapascua, a PCG vessel, near Ayungin Shoal last Feb. 6.
Tarriela said the PCG currently has three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) – two 97-meter ships and an 83-meter asset – which are the most suitable platforms to hold long-duration patrol operations in the WPS.
But even these ships are “optimized” so they can be deployed to other parts of the country such as the northern seaboard in Batanes, the eastern seaboard in Benham Rise, and in ZambaSulTa area (Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) in the southern part of the country.
There are also smaller ships such as the BRP Mapascua, a 44-meter vessel, which are used to patrol the WPS but they can only last for a short period of time, unlike the bigger ships which can last at sea for more than 15 days.
“Kaya (That’s why) we have been pressing our legislators to support the Coast Guard modernization for us to acquire more OPVs,” Tarriela stressed.