West Philippine Sea

TIMELINE: Skirmishes, standoffs, harassment in West Philippine Sea


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These incidents in the Philippines-China row typically don't just target state authorities but also affect local fisherfolks

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MANILA, Philippines – Untoward incidents are commonly reported in the West Philippine Sea before and after the Philippines won its case against China at The Hague.  

These incidents in the Philippines-China row that include harassment and standoffs, among others, typically don’t just target state authorities but also affect local fisherfolks. 

This timeline shows the various skirmishes, standoffs, and show of power that have happened in the West Philippine Sea since 2011. These incidents involved the Chinese Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, and Filipino fishermen, among others.

Below are other records of incidents regarding different aspects of Philippine-China relations: 

TIMELINE: The Philippines-China maritime dispute
TIMELINE: Philippine-China relationship under Duterte


February 25 – Chinese frigate Dongguan fires 3 shots at Philippine fishing boats in the vicinity of Quirino or Jackson Atoll. The shots are fired after the Chinese instructed the fishing boats to leave.

May 23 – A News5 report shows that China has built military garrisons and outposts in 6 reefs that are part of the Kalayaan Island Group.

October 20 – A Philippine naval ship rams into a small Chinese fishing boat in an area near the Reed Bank. The Philippines promptly issues an apology to the Chinese Embassy in Manila over the accident.


April 8 – A surveillance plane of the Philippine Navy spots 8 Chinese fishing boats venture into Scarborough Shoal.

April 11 – A standoff begins between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Navy. After spotting Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Navy deploys BRP Gregorio Del Pilar. In response, China sends surveillance ships to warn the Philippine Navy to leave the area. 

April 14 – Reports say 7 Chinese fishing vessels and one Marine survey ship left Panatag Shoal allegedly with an illegal harvest of endangered species

July 18 – China blocks Filipino ships and fishing vessels from the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal by placing barriers in its entry point.


January 22 – The Philippines files an arbitration case against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to settle the maritime dispute. 

May 21 – At least 30 Chinese fishing vessels, including 3 Chinese government ships, are spotted for more than a week at Ayungin Shoal, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group near Palawan.

July 5 – Chinese ships return to Scarborough Shoal a few days after they left the area near Zambales in the West Philippine Sea.


January 27 –  A Chinese Coast Guard vessel reportedly fires a water cannon at Filipino fishermen in the Bajo de Masinloc. 

March 10 – The Philippine’s Department of National Defense confirms that two Philippine ships are expelled by the Chinese Coast Guard from Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

March  A Philippine government vessel evades two Chinese Coast Guard ships trying to block its path to deliver food, water, and other troops to a military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

March 29 – The Philippine government condemns China after two of its ships harassed a Philippine vessel in the disputed Ayungin Shoal.

May 6 – The Philippine government charges 11 arrested Chinese fishermen for illegal poaching. It also publicly accuses China of carrying out reclamation work.


July 12 – The Philippines wins its landmark victory against China 3 years after former president Benigno Aquino III filed the arbitration case with The Hague in 2013. The victory happens under the adminsitration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his warm times with China.

September 27 – The National Security Council releases a report by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) that details harassment done by the Chinese Coast Guard against Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales. 

November 2 – Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) releases images taken at Scarborough Shoal that shows Chinese blockades continue to restrict access to the shoal, with a China Coast Guard (CCG) craft “anchored just inside the mouth of the lagoon.”

The center also receives information from the Philippine Navy that 3 other CCG vessels patrol around Scarborough.


April – A group of Bataan fishermen claims that they were chased off by a Chinese Coast Guard while they were fishing in the Union Banks. According to Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, who the fishermen talked to in the aftermath of the incident, “a gray speedboat with a crew of 7 in camouflage uniform approached them and immediately fired shots into the air.”


February 5  The Philippine Daily Inquirer publishes exclusive photos revealing China has continued reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea. 

May 11 – A Chinese navy chopper harrasses a Philippine Navy rubber boat conducting resupplying efforts at Ayungin Shoal. A chopper of the People’s Liberation Army Navy allegedly encroached upon the rubber boat and was “so close that seawater splash entered” the vessel.

May 19 – Chinese state-run People’s Daily uploads a video to Twitter showing several Chinese bombers landing and taking off from Woody Island. AMTI reports that “nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers, including Manila and all 5 Philippine military bases earmarked for development under the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.”

The Philippine government eventually files a note verbale more than a week after the incident on May 26.

June 8 – Footage by GMA News shows the CCG taking the catch of Filipino fishermen. Fisherman Roseller Latagen says that the CCG would take as much as P3,000 worth of their catch, only occasionally giving something in return.

When they do, the CCG typically compensates with two small bottles of mineral water, some cigarettes, or packs of noodles. Otherwise, they take “whatever they want,” often nabbing the best ones, the fisherman says.

In the face of fierce condemnation of the incident, Duterte describes what happened as unbalanced “barter” trade.

November 22 – Journalist Jun Veneracion of GMA News narrates how he and his crew were barred from taking videos near the Panatag Shoal by Chinese Coast Guard. 


March – Then senatorial bet Neri Colmenares releases a video featuring interviews with Zambales fishermen who claim to have experienced intimidation tactics by China. 

Responding to the video, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on May 25 says the government cannot do anything because the Chinese government are the ones in control. 

Ang tanong ko naman sa ‘yo, may magagawa ba tayo eh sila ang may control as of now ‘di ba? Mayroon silang puwersa doon,” he said. (My question to you is, can we do something when they have the control as of now, right? They have forces there.)

March 15 – Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, along with the fishermen, submits a communication to the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor alleging that Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials have committed crimes “which involve massive, near-permanent, and devastating environmental damage across nations.”

June 9  A Chinese vessel sinks a Philippine vessel in a collision in the West Philippine Sea, leaving 22 Filipino fishermen on that boat “to the mercy of the elements.” The Philippine Department of Defense announces the incident to the public on June 12. 

The fishermen on board the vessel from Occidental Mindoro are eventually rescued by a Vietnamese fishing vessel. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says the government “condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly action of the Chinese fishing vessel and its crew for abandoning the Filipino crew,” adding that abandoning is “not an expected action from a responsible and friendly people.”

He also calls for an investigation and diplomatic action in response to the incident.

June 10 – The PCG reports that it has spotted a Chinese warship in the Scarborough Shoal. PCG spokesperson Captain Armand Balilo says the team also spotted two CCG vessels, two militia boats, and the navy warship. – with reports from Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com

TOP PHOTO: A Philippine Coast Guard ship (R) sails past a Chinese Coast Guard ship during a joint search and rescue exercise between Philippine and US coast guards near Scarborough Shoal. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

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