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MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday, August 6, said it “strongly condemns” the “excessive and offensive” actions by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) against a Philippine vessel headed to Ayungin Shoal during a recent resupply mission.
“We call on the China Coast Guard and the Central Military Commission to act with prudence and be responsible in their actions to prevent miscalculations and accidents that will endanger peoples’ lives,” the AFP said in a statement.
The AFP said one of its chartered supply boats was blocked and water cannoned by a CCG vessel on Saturday, August 5, on its way to Ayungin Shoal for a routine troop rotation and resupply mission, making it unable to unload the supplies. It could not complete its mission.
The boat was carrying food, water, fuel and other supplies to Philippine military troops stationed on BRP Sierra Madre.
The AFP said the incident was a “disregard of the safety of the people on board and in violation of international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award.”
In a separate statement, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also condemned the recent harassment by the Chinese vessel. They called on the CCG to “restrain its forces, respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, refrain from hampering freedom of navigation, and take appropriate actions against the individuals involved in this unlawful incident.”
The PCG also echoed the call of the AFP for the CCG to respect its responsibility to observe state obligations under UNCLOS to cease all illegal activities within the maritime zones of the Philippines.
This was not the first time that the CCG “harassed” and blocked Filipino vessels. In July, PCG boats were “constantly followed, harassed, and obstructed by the significantly larger Chinese coast guard vessels” during a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.
Invoke US mutual defense treaty?
In a statement on Sunday, the United States expressed its support for the Philippines, saying that China’s ships “interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and jeopardized the safety of the Philippine vessels and crew.”
“Such actions by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) are inconsistent with international law and are the latest in repeated threats to the status quo in the South China Sea, directly threatening regional peace and stability,” the US said.
“The United States reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces –including those of its Coast Guard in the South China Sea – would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” it added.
But for Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, the treaty should not be invoked.
“Use diplomacy and ‘intelligent tactics.’ The MDT should not be invoked lightly. Use our Kokote not the MDT,” he told reporters on Sunday.
The incident comes as the Senate passed a resolution “strongly condemning” China’s moves in the West Philippine Sea, as it urged the Philippine government to take actions, including bringing the issue before the United Nations, in case the harassment continues.
In a statement, China’s coast guard countered it had implemented necessary controls in accordance with the law to deter Philippine ships, which it accused of trespassing and carrying illegal building materials.
CCG spokesman Gan Yu responded said that China has “indisputable” sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their adjacent waters, including the Second Thomas Shoal or Ayungin Shoal.
“We urge the Philippine side to immediately stop its infringing activities in this waters,” Gan posted on the coast guard’s WeChat social media account. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com