West Philippine Sea

China tried to block evacuation of sick Filipino personnel in West Philippine Sea – PCG

Bea Cupin

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China tried to block evacuation of sick Filipino personnel in West Philippine Sea – PCG

HARASSMENT. The PCG says China 'intentionally' rammed a Philippine Navy rubber boat during the May 19 medical evacuation.

Philippine Coast Guard video

(2nd UPDATE) National Security Adviser Eduardo Año says China's statement asking that the Philippines first give a heads up before accessing Ayungin Shoal was 'non-sense and acceptable'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Friday, June 7, condemned what it called China’s “barbaric and inhumane” attempt to block and harass a Philippine mission to evacuate sick personnel in the West Philippine Sea last month.

China tried to block evacuation of sick Filipino personnel in West Philippine Sea – PCG

Videos of the May 19 incident, made public for the first time on Friday, show China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel aboard vessels and smaller boats sailing close to PCG and Philippine Navy personnel, before issuing what seemed like a warning via speaker.

Two larger CCG ships – with bow numbers 21551 and 21555 – were also close by. 

“During our attempt to bring the PCG HSRB alongside the PN RHIB at the rendezvous point, we were harassed by vessels and small boats from the China Coast Guard through blocking operations,” PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a statement. 

“Despite informing the Chinese Coast Guard via radio and public address system about the humanitarian nature of our mission for medical evacuation, they still engaged in dangerous maneuvers and even intentionally rammed the PN RHIB while transporting the sick personnel,” Tarriela added.

China’s harassment of Philippine personnel took place just some 15.43 nautical miles off the northeast entrance to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Ayungin is where the BRP Sierra Madre was purposely ran around in 1999. It has since served as the Philippines’ military outpost in the area. 

“The barbaric and inhumane behavior displayed by the China Coast Guard has no place in our society. What should have been a simple medical evacuation operation was subjected to harassment, with the excessive deployment of two China Coast Guard vessels (21551 and 21555), two small boats, and two rubber boats. Their actions clearly demonstrated their intention to prevent the sick personnel from receiving the proper medical attention he urgently needed,” Tarriela said. 

The AFP, in a press conference on June 4, said one of its personnel stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal had to be evacuated for unspecified medical reasons. On May 19, too, Chinese personnel harassed – and seized – packages containing food for Filipino soldiers delivered via airdrop mission. 

Tarriela said the PCG and Philippine Navy still “successfully outmaneuvered the numerous CCG assets and completed the transfer of the sick personnel.” Personnel needing medical attention were then brought to nearby Palawan.

Meanwhile, in a report from Reuters, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday it will allow the Philippines to deliver supplies and evacuate personnel if Manila notifies Beijing ahead of a mission.

“However, the Philippines may not use this as an excuse to transport materials of construction to its naval vessels in an attempt to permanently occupy Ren’ai Jiao,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a briefing.

In a statement on Saturday, June 8, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said China’s statement asking that the Philippines first give a heads up before accessing Ayungin Shoal was “non-sense and acceptable.” He said the Philippines “does not and will not” seek China’s approval for its activities in the shoal. 

“We emphasize that the Philippines will continue to maintain and supply our outposts in the West Philippine Sea, including the BRP Sierra Madre, without seeking permission from any other nation. Our operations are conducted within our own territorial waters and EEZ, and we will not be deterred by foreign interference or intimidation,” Año added.

China refers to the Second Thomas Shoal as Ren’ai Jiao.

Ayungin is a feature in the West Philippine Sea that is just over 120 nautical miles away from Palawan. Even if it is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, China claims it as its own, as well as most of the South China Sea. 

Philippine missions to flashpoints in the West Philippine Sea – Ayungin or Panatag Shoals – are often tense and sometimes dangerous, with the CCG resorting to harassment and force. The CCG had used its powerful water cannons several times against Philippine personnel.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said in the past that the death of a Filipino in those waters would be reason to invoke the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. – with reports from Reuters/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.