Marcos Jr. administration

Philippines summons China envoy, files protest over water cannon incident

Bea Cupin

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Philippines summons China envoy, files protest over water cannon incident

BLOCKADE. A China Coast Guard ship blocks a Philippine Coast Guard vessel en route to Ayungin Shoal on August 5, 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

President Marcos is set to lead a command conference on how the Philippines will respond to the incident

MANILA, Philippines – China’s top diplomat in Manila, Ambassador Huang Xilian, was summoned by a deputy minister of the Philippines’ foreign affairs department days after Chinese Coast Guard vessels trailed, blocked, and then pointed water cannons toward Philippine ships on a resupply mission to an outpost in the South China Sea.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Teresita Diaz, in a press conference on Monday, August 7, said Huang was summoned earlier the same day by Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro, the country’s undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier told media that Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo had visited Huang to personally hand over the note verbale. A note verbale is one of the many ways in which one country may file a protest over another country’s actions.

Philippines summons China envoy, files protest over water cannon incident

Diaz said Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz also issued a protest note in Beijing Monday morning.

This is not the first time that Huang has been summoned. In February 2023, Marcos himself summoned the Chinese envoy over a laser-pointing incident in the South China Sea.

This time, the Philippines is protesting an August 5 incident wherein the China Coast Guard, aided by Chinese militia ships, hounded, blocked, surrounded, and eventually pointed water cannons toward Philippine ships en route to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Diaz noted the Philippines’ “disappointment” that the DFA could not reach its counterpart in China “for several hours” as the incident was happening. The two countries earlier agreed to set up lines of communication specifically to avoid escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

In the protest, the Philippines emphasized its sovereign rights and jurisdictions within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, according to the 2016 arbitral ruling, and that China’s actions were “contrary to China’s flag state obligation under the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.”

Manila, through its note verbale, asked Beijing to: 

  1. Stop their illegal action against Philippine vessels and to stop interfering in legitimate Philippine activities;
  2. Comply with its obligation under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and the 2016 award and the South China Sea Arbitration and the 1972 COLREGs, and adhere to its commitments under the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea).
‘We will not abandon Ayungin’

In a rare joint press conference with the DFA, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the National Security Council (NSC), officials and spokespersons of the different government bodies narrated the Philippines’ version of events while scoring China for violating international law and putting the lives of Philippine crew members at risk.

Ayungin Shoal is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as defined by a 2016 Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling that quashed China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognize the validity of that ruling and, despite a promise of “mature” relations under Marcos, has continued harassing Filipino ships in the area.

From 2020 to August 2023, the Philippines filed 445 diplomatic protests against China over illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea. In 2023, 35 diplomatic protests have been filed by the Philippines against China.

Amid criticism from the Philippines and its allies, including the United States, Beijing has called on Manila to pull out the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded World War II-era warship that serves as the Philippine outpost in the resource-rich waters.

“We will not abandon Ayungin Shoal. We are committed to the Ayungin Shoal,” said NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya in the press conference.

AFP Spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar was much more succinct.

“Who is the China Coast Guard to tell us what to do?” he told journalists in Manila.

Marcos is set to lead a command conference late Monday to discuss “how [the Philippines] will respond” to the latest incident.

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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.