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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday, February 13, accused China of harassment, after one of its coast guard vessels aimed a military-grade laser at the BRP Malapascua in waters near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The incident took place last Monday, February 6, as the PCG ship was out supporting a Philippine Navy resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippine Navy’s BRP Sierra Madre is aground as a permanent outpost.
Based on details shared to the media by the PCG, a China Coast Guard vessel with bow number 5205 twice directed a military grade laser-light toward the BRP Malapascua, “causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge.”
Photos released by the PCG provided proof of the incident, with images showing the green laser light flashing toward the PCG vessel, from which the image was taken.
China’s use of the laser against the BRP Malpascua is the latest in a series of incidents where Philippine vessels were harassed while patrolling its own waters.
In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark arbitration award asserting its rights in the West Philippine Sea, although China has continued to ignore the ruling, which it considered “invalid.” The 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling struck down China’s expansive claims, actions, and nine-dash-line in the South China Sea as illegal.
China’s use of the laser was coupled with dangerous maneuvers which saw the vessel approach the PCG ship at about 150 yards from its starboard quarter or somewhere behind.
“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,” the PCG said.
It was not immediately clear if the BRP Malapascua was able to complete its support of a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. The PCG said that the vessel headed toward Lawak Island as part of its deployment plan, to support the BRP Teresa Magbanua for its own resupply mission to substations in the Kalayaan Island Group.
History of harassment
It is not the first time for Philippine vessels to experience harassment by Chinese ships near Ayungin Shoal. In recent years, the Philippine has filed a volley of protests against China for its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, though Chinese ships continue to linger in the waterway.
Back in August 2022, a CCG ship prevented PCG ships from sailing near Ayungin Shoal as it was out supporting a Philippine Navy resupply mission.
In that incident, the same CCG vessel with bow number 5205 removed the cover af a 70mm naval gun as the BRP Magbanua was close to Ayungin Shoal. Together with Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels, a 13-nautical-mile-radius blockade was formed to prevent Philippine government ships from reaching troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre.
“In this particular mission, it was evident that the CMM vessels took orders from the CCG to prevent the Philippine ships from entering the shoal. The CMM even deployed their utility boats to support the blockade and shadowing by the CCG,” the PCG said.
Resupply missions to Ayungin have grown more crucial in recent years, with the BRP Sierra Madre slowly breaking down due to the harsh effects of natural elements out at sea.
Despite the incident, the PCG said it remained resolved to continue protecting Philippine waters and providing support to the Philippine Navy’s mission.
“The PCG ships will always be in the West Philippine Sea to sustain our presence and assert our sovereign rights,” said PCG Commandant Artemio Abu. – Rappler.com