Philippine Coast Guard

Philippines says nothing ‘humanitarian’ about China’s moves vs Ayungin resupply mission

Bea Cupin

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Philippines says nothing ‘humanitarian’ about China’s moves vs Ayungin resupply mission

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The Philippine Coast Guard says Chinese ships tried 'various ways for the [resupply] vessels to be separated from the PCG'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Wednesday, August 23, blasted its Chinese counterpart for claiming that it had allowed a Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal due to “humanitarian considerations.”

Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea, said in a Laging Handa briefing, that the Philippines’ latest mission to bring much-needed supplies to Filipino soldiers in the BRP Sierra Madre was “not a walk in the park” as China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels harassed and blocked Philippines vessels within the country’s own exclusive economic zone.

“Then again, it’s still defeating the argument that they are humanist, that they let the resupply operation through. As I said, the resupply mission that we had yesterday was not a walk in the park,” said Tarriela.

On August 22, two PCG ships escorted boats commissioned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to bring supplies to Philippine Marines stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded ship that serves as the Philippine outpost in those waters. It was the Philippines’ second resupply mission in August, after a routine mission on August 5 was partially stopped by China.

China Coast Guard and military militia ships harassed, blocked, and pointed water cannons at the Philippine vessels. Chinese boats tried to separate the AFP-commissioned ships from their PCG escorts – a move they apparently tried to replicate on August 22.

China, said Tarriela, used the same “gray zone” tactics – or the use of provocative moves that stop short of military actions – in trying to stop the four Philippine ships. The Filipinos were certainly outnumbered, with four China Coast Guard vessels and four Chinese maritime militia ships to the Philippines’ two PCG ships and two resupply boats.

Chinese ships, the PCG spokesperson added, tried “various ways for the [resupply] vessels to be separated from the PCG.”

“This time, our game plan was to outmaneuver these China Coast Guard vessels in their attempt to block us,” said Tarriela, attributing the success of the mission to “team play” between the PCG and the supply boats commissioned by the military.

Tarriela also noted a major difference between the August 5 and August 22 incidents – the second time around, China used much smaller ships to block Philippine vessels and did not use water cannons on the Philippine boats.

The PCG spokesperson said this was China’s attempt to manage “optics” or their image to the world.” “They want to show the world that supposedly, they are not that aggressive in preventing our resupply operations. So they adjusted and sent over smaller boats,” he said. Footage from August 5 showed China Coast Guard vessels that dwarfed their Philippine counterparts – moreso the AFP-hired boats.

Resupply missions are crucial for the soldiers stationed at the remote outpost. Aside from their basic needs, the BRP Sierra Madre is in constant need of repairs. It’s been aground in Ayungin since it was purposefully placed there in 1999.

China wrongfully claims Ayungin Shoal as theirs, despite a 2016 arbitral award that said it was part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

China state-run Global Times, in a report, characterized the resupply mission as the Philippines “trespassing into waters near China’s Ren’ai Jiao (also Ren’ai Reef),” referring to their term for Ayungin Shoal.

The report went on to quote China Coast Guard spokesperson Liu Dejun as saying that since “the Philippine side did not carry illegal building materials used for large-scale reinforcement, under a humanitarian consideration, a temporary special arrangement is made for the Philippine side to transport necessary living materials including food to its ‘grounded’ warship.”

China’s earlier attempt to stop the resupply mission on August 5 reaped condemnation from Philippine allies, including the United States, Australia, Japan, the European Union, and South Korea. The US, the Philippines’ only treaty-ally, also said in a statement that attacks on a Philippine ship in the West Philippine Sea could be the basis for triggering the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

The PCG has been at the forefront of the Philippines’ efforts to make public China’s repeated aggressive actions and harassments in the West Philippine Sea. – 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.