West Philippine Sea

Chinese coast guard boarded PH ship, seized rifles, punctured boats off Ayungin Shoal, says Brawner

Bea Cupin

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Chinese coast guard boarded PH ship, seized rifles, punctured boats off Ayungin Shoal, says Brawner

CCG 'PIRACY.' The AFP releases a photo showing CCG personnel 'brandishing bladed and pointed weapons, threatening to injure AFP troops' during the June 17 mission to Ayungin Shoal.

Armed Forces of the Philippines

(1st UPDATE) China should return the rifles and pay for the damage its personnel caused, says the military chief

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – What Chinese coast guard personnel have done in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on June 17 – boarding a Philippine government ship, wielding machetes and knives to puncture navy boats, and seizing disassembled rifles – constitute “piracy” and Beijing should pay for the damage, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief said on Wednesday, June 19.

Chinese coast guard boarded PH ship, seized rifles, punctured boats off Ayungin Shoal, says Brawner

Visiting the military’s Western Command here which has jurisdiction over the WPS, AFP chief General Romeo Brawner demanded that China return the disassembled rifles it took from Navy personnel and pay for the damage they caused on equipment when they disrupted and harassed a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on June 17. 

“We cannot let them just do this and take our [assets]. For me, this is piracy because they boarded [our vessel] illegally, they got our equipment. Again, they acted like pirates,” he told a press conference in a mix of English and Filipino. 

On Wednesday evening, the AFP released videos of what it called a “brazen aggression” by China. Watch them here.

Transportation, Vehicle, Yacht
The AFP says CCG personnel was caught on camera while ‘threatening to injure an AFP soldier with a pickaxe’ during the humanitarian rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on June 17. Armed Forces of the Philippines

Two rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and a military-contracted civilian vessel attempted to conduct a mission to bring provisions for and rotate troops stationed to the BRP Sierra Madre, an old warship that serves as a Filipino military outpost in the West Philippine Sea. 

That mission was disrupted by the China Coast Guard (CCG), which deployed at least eight vessels to harass the mission, according to the Philippine government. The Chinese vessels repeatedly bumped and tried to block the two RHIBs, eventually trapping it in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, according to the Philippine government.

The Philippines’ civilian vessel, a metal ship called Lapu-Lapu, did not make it close enough to the shoal. 

One Filipino soldier, Seaman First Class Underwater Operator Jefferson Facundo, lost his right thumb as China’s steel-hulled vessels and RHIBs rammed the Naval Special Operations Command’s (NAVSOG) RHIB. 

Western Command chief Read Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. said Facundo was holding on to the edges of their RHIB when it was caught between the Chinese vessels. 

Bladed weapons vs courage

The incident occurred after China announced its new coast guard regulations, which allow its personnel to board vessels or arrest “trespassers” in its claimed seas.

The “ramming and towing” of Philippine ships, which Manila and its allies have slammed as “dangerous acts,” marked the first time for the Chinese to board a Philippine government ship in a hostile maneuver and to openly wield machetes and knives at sea. 

The bladed weapons are what the Chinese used to puncture and render unusable the NAVSOG RHIBs. “We had no arms with us or bladed weapons… we have videos that show how the Chinese even threatened personnel by pointing their knives [at them],” said Brawner. 

“Despite this, our soldiers fought with their bare hands. You’ll see [in the video], they tried to push away the enemy… the CCG away. They were preventing the [CCG] from hitting them with their bolos and machetes,” said Brawner. 

The Filipino RHIBs were eventually surrounded and blocked by different Chinese vessels – after which the CCG boarded the NAVSOG ships. CCG seized Philippine Navy equipment, including disassembled riffles that were meant to replenish the supplies of soldiers aboard the BRP Sierra Madre. 

Transportation, Vehicle, Watercraft
The AFP’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat was deflated and damaged due to ‘deliberate slashing’ using machete/bolo, knives and pikes by the CCG during mission to the BRP Sierra Madre on June 17. Armed Forces of the Philippines

The Chinese also damaged the engine of the RHIBs, said Brawner.

During resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal, military personnel are not allowed to have firearms, to avoid escalating tensions in the area. 

It’s also why it’s only in Ayungin Shoal where the Philippine Navy uses civilian ships – or in this case, RHIBs – instead of their larger gray ships. 

“I want to eliminate impressions that our soldiers just let the CCG have their way, and let the CCG take our things and destroy our boats… We fought, despite the limitations,” said Brawner. 

China deployed 8 vessels – their own RHIBs, and larger steel hull boats – against the Navy’s two RHIBs. 

“I admire the Filipino soldier because of the restrained they practiced. Our objective is also to prevent war,” Brawner added.

At the Western Command headquarters, Brawner attended a briefing, awarded Facundo a Wounded Personnel Medal, and spoke to soldiers stationed across outposts in the WPS via secure video conference call. – Rappler.com 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.