Filipino TV crew chased by Chinese ships armed with missiles

An ABS-CBN news team was aggressively chased by Chinese ships armed with heavy weapons in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, April 8.

ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano, along with her news team, rode a motor boat to check on the latest movements of China in the disputed seas.

"Isa sana sa mga pupuntahan nating bahura, Kabayan, ay 'yung Ayungin Shoal dahil alam naman natin na mayroong detachment ang Armed Forces of the Philippines doon. Kaya naisip namin na baka puwedeng pumunta roon ang mangingisdang Pinoy dahil magiging kampante sila dahil may nakabantay sa kanilang AFP," Zambrano narrated in her TV Patrol report.

(One of our supposed destinations, Kabayan, was the Ayungin Shoal because we know that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has a military detachment in the area. That's why we thought that Filipino fishermen can fish in the area because there is a military presence.)

Zambrano narrated that when they were about to reach Ayungin Shoal, a Chinese ship went in their direction. 

"Papunta pa lang kami roon [Ayungin Shoal] ay may lumapit na na puting barko ng China Coast Guard. At dumidiretso, nakikita namin sa lente na papunta sa direksyon namin. Maya-maya pa, Kabayan, ay nag-radyo ito at sa salitang Ingles ay tinanong kung sino kami at ano ang ginagawa namin," she said.

(We were on our way to Ayungin Shoal when a white Chinese Coast Guard ship headed toward us. It moved closer and closer, and we could see that through our lens. After that, it sent a radio communication and in English asked who we were and what we were doing in the area.)

To avoid possible aggression and unnecessary tension, they decided to return to Palawan. 

"Pero ang nangyari, Kabayan, kahit kami ay nasa ruta ng papauwi ng mainland [Palawan] ay mga isang oras kaming hinabol nitong puting barko ng China Coast Guard," the reporter said. 

(But what happened, Kabayan, even though we were heading for mainland Palawan, we were chased for about an hour by this white China Coast Guard ship.)

But the tension heightened when Chinese ships armed with destructive missiles chased them. 

"Pagkatapos ay may sumunod naman na dalawang mas maliit pero mas mabilis na sasakyang pandagat. At nu'ng sinilip namin, Kabayan, ito 'yung mga Type 022 Houbei fast attack craft na may tig-dalawang missile na naka-mount sa bawat isa sa kanila," Zambrano narrated. 

(After that, two smaller but faster ships chased us. And when we checked, Kabayan, we saw that the ships were Type 022 Houbei fast attack craft with two mounted missiles.)

The intimidation of Zambrano's team by Chinese ships is one of the latest aggressions that China had taken against Filipinos inside Philippine territory – aside from the regular intimidation of Filipino fishermen and the illegal poaching of clams in the seascapes. 

On March 21, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said it had received a report from the Philippine Coast Guard that 220 Chinese ships were spotted at Julian Felipe Reef. As of March 29, around 258 Chinese vessels were still scattered in different parts of the West Philippine Sea according to the task force. 

The fast attack crafts that chased Zambrano's team were earlier spotted at Panganiban Reef on April 1. The crafts were stealth missile fast attack ships used by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. 

Global Times, a Chinese state-owned media, described the vessels as "fast, flexible, stealthy, and powerful."

"Military observers used to think the Type 022 was only suitable for coastal defense, but the PLA is seemingly exploring its potential to operate beyond that," the Global Times reported. 

On November 25, 2020, the PLA sent three Type 071 amphibious dock landing ships and multiple Type 022 stealth missile boats to two exercises in the South China Sea to send a strong message of deterrence against Taiwan and other claimants in the disputed territories. 

The Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, which means the Philippines, not China, has sovereign rights over these features. 

Historically, the Philippines in 1999 intentionally parked the BRP Sierra Madre, an old and rusty navy ship, in Ayungin Shoal to stand the ground of the Philippines in the territorial waters. – Rappler.com