THE PHILIPPINE Coast Guard on Monday accused China of trying to block a resupply ship at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, prompting lawmakers to seek more joint patrols with security allies to deter China’s militarization of the waterway.
A China Coast Guard vessel had tried to blind the crew of BRP Malapascua on Feb. 6 by shining a laser light at the ship, putting them in danger, it said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
Philippine lawmakers condemned the act and sought more joint patrols and international pressure to stop Chinese excursions.
The Philippines claims sovereignty over the shoal in the Spratly Islands that it calls Ayungin, having deliberately grounded the Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre — a World War II-era vessel it acquired from the United States in 1976 — there in 1999.
Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Southeast Asian Nation’s exclusive economic zone.
As BRP Malapascua reached a 10-nautical mile distance from the shoal, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel was seen about 4 nautical miles dead ahead, maneuvering from the Philippine ship’s left side and heading toward its right side.
“The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge,” the Philippine Coast Guard said. “The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter.”
The Philippine vessel altered its course from Second Thomas Shoal and headed toward Lawak Island (Nanshan).
“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,” it said, referring to areas of the South China Sea with the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila and Philippine Foreign Affairs department did not immediately reply to separate text messages seeking comment.
“The Philippine Coast Guard will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country’s territorial integrity against foreign aggression,” Philippine Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Artemio M. Abu said in the statement.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines can always rely on the Philippine Coast Guard to support their resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal,” he said.
“Despite the dangerous maneuver of the much larger Chinese Coast Guard ships and their aggressive actions at sea, the Philippine Coast Guard ships will always be in the West Philippine Sea to sustain our presence and assert our sovereign rights.”
Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said the Philippines should increase coast guard patrols and launch joint patrols with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan.
“By doing this, we are increasing the cooperation with Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) countries with generally equal footing with the Philippines and at the same time defending our territory,” she said in a statement.
Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel urged China to act responsibly “if it wants to show true leadership in the region” and restrain its coast guard, navy and maritime militia to avoid inflaming the situation at sea.
“Tensions are already high, but what is China doing instead? She is only getting more brazen by the day,” she said in a separate statement. “Her shameless harassment, causing temporary blindness to Filipino crew members, should warrant a penalty.”
Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero in a statement said the incident should be referred to the Foreign Affairs department, which can file a diplomatic protest or summon the Chinese ambassador in Manila.
Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito said the Philippines should enter into an alliance with the US, Japan, Australia and other ASEAN nations with a territorial dispute with China to stop its “continuing aggression.”
The Philippine Coast Guard noted that back in August, the Chinese Coast Guard had also prevented its ships from coming closer to Second Thomas Shoal while these were providing security to a Philippine Navy resupply mission.
The same China Coast Guard vessel removed the cover of its 70 mm naval armament when BRP Teresa Magbanua came close to the shoal, it said.
The Chinese ship, together with two Chinese maritime militia and another coast guard ship formed a 13-nautical mile-radius blockade with the grounded Philippine Navy vessel to prevent government ships from reaching the Armed Forces troops, it added.
The Philippine Coast Guard said it was evident that the Chinese maritime militia vessels had taken orders from China’s coast guard to prevent the Philippine ships from entering the shoal.
“The Chinese maritime militia even deployed their utility boats to support the blockade and shadowing by the Chinese Coast Guard,” it added. — Norman P. Aquino, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Beatriz Marie D. Cruz and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan