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The Philippines on Thursday, November 18, condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels it said blocked and used water cannons on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said no one was hurt during Tuesday’s incident at the Second Thomas Shoal but the Philippine boats, which were transporting food to military personnel based there, had to abort their mission.
“China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public vessel is covered by a Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.
Locsin said he had conveyed “in the strongest terms” to China’s ambassador in Manila “our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident.”
China’s embassy did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
The Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles (195 km) off Palawan, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and a small contingent of military have occupied it since 1999 having intentionally grounded a navy ship on the reef.
China regards the shoal as its territory as it falls within the “nine-dash line” that it uses on maps denoting its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. A 2016 international arbitration ruling, however, said the Chinese line had no legal basis.
Locsin said China’s failure to exercise self-restraint “threatens the special relationship” between the two countries.
The office of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been a staunch supporter of China, said it was aware of the incident at the shoal.
“We will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” acting spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.
Before the incident, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said authorities had noticed an unusual presence of Chinese maritime militia near the atoll and Philippine-occupied Thitu island. China has denied operating a militia.
There were 19 vessels near Second Thomas Shoal last week, and 45 near Thitu Island, Esperon told reporters, describing those as “very aggressive.”
Vice President Leni Robredo denounced the incident, reiterating the need for the Philippines to assert its sovereignty in the face of continued Chinese harassment.
She once again raised the Philippines’ historic tribunal victory in 2016 that junked China’s expansive claim over the South China Sea.
“Na-harass na naman ang ating re-supply vessels sa Ayungin Shoal. Hindi puwedeng maliitin ang mga Pilipino nang ganito. Ang panalo natin sa arbitral ruling ang sandalan natin para tuloy-tuloy nating maprotektahan kung ano ang atin,” Robredo said.
(Our supply vessels have once again been harassed in Ayungin Shoal. Filipinos cannot take this lightly. Our victory in the arbitral ruling should serve to protect what truly belongs to us.)
Robredo, who is running for president in the 2022 elections, issued the statement a day after she and her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan met with retired military generals to discuss national security concerns on Wednesday, November 17.
The retired top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) present during the meeting include former chiefs of staff Generals Eduardo Oban PAF and Hernando Iriberri PA; former Navy flag officer in command Vice Admiral Alexander Pama; former vice chief of staff Lieutenant General Salvador Mison Jr. PAF; former Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Rommel Jude Ong; former AFP internal auditor and spokesperson Major General Domingo Tutaan; and Major General Arnold Mancita PAF. – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com