West Philippine Sea

Philippines says China’s Ayungin harassment not ‘armed attack’

Lance Spencer Yu

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Philippines says China’s Ayungin harassment not ‘armed attack’

CHINESE HARASSMENT. The China Coast Guard brandishes weapons, uses sirens, and threatens Filipino soldiers already moored alongside the BRP Sierra Madre during a June 17, 2024 resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal.

Armed Forces of the Philippines

(2nd UPDATE) 'Huwag natin sabihin na armed attack ito. Huwag natin i-interpret ito na something that would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty,' says National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea spokesperson Jay Tarriela

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is asserting that there was “no reason” to interpret the actions of the Chinese coast guard on June 17 – which included ramming a Philippine government ship, brandishing machetes and knives, and taking disassembled rifles – as an “armed attack” on Philippine military personnel.

“There is no reason na i-interpret natin ito na this is an armed attack dahil ang intention lamang ng China dito is (to interpret this as an armed attack because China’s only intention here was)…to prevent the resupply from being successful,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

“Our objective is to resupply. The Chinese objective is to prevent the resupply from happening. That is the only thing that has happened there. Walang intention ang sinumang bansa na magkaroon ng malawakang armed aggression sa insidente (No country intended for the incident to cause widespread armed aggression),” Tarriela told the media in a forum on Saturday, June 22.

He also cautioned the public from thinking that the incident would spark a “big war.”

In a separate statement on Saturday, Tarriela said the country’s rotation and resupply (RORE) missions will continue despite the recent incident, noting that every mission is “a legitimate operation of the Philippine government.” 

Tarriela added that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to approve the National Maritime Council’s policy recommendation to announce the schedules of upcoming RORE missions.

A day before, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, who also chairs the National Maritime Council, also said that the Philippines is “not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack.”

“What we saw were some bolos, axe. Nothing beyond that,” Bersamin said in a press conference on Friday, June 21. He also said that it was “probably a misunderstanding or an accident.”

Footage of the June 17 incident, released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, showed Chinese coast guard personnel ramming Philippine ships, using tear gas against Filipino soldiers, puncturing the tube of a rigid hull inflatable boat, and destroying its navigation and communication equipment. During the confrontation, one Filipino soldier had his thumb cut off after it got caught between Philippine and Chinese boats.

Although the incident might not be considered an “armed attack,” Tarriela said that the Philippines still condemns what Chinese forces did.

“We should not interpret this as something na (that) we don’t consider as barbaric and inhumane action on the part of the Chinese coast guard. We still condemn these actions that they did on our troops,” the NTF-WPS spokesperson said.

What are the implications of an ‘armed attack?’

In order to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with treaty-ally the United States, an “armed attack” should happen against the Philippines.

For University of the Philippines law professor and maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, classifying the incident as a “misunderstanding” leaves space for diplomacy.

“The intention there is to essentially treat that incident as being on the same level as a misunderstanding or an accident. And that would be useful to give space for deliberate effort to seek a diplomatic and peaceful solution,” Batongbacal said in the same media forum on Saturday.

Tarriela would later repeat the same sentiment, saying: “Huwag natin sabihin na armed attack ito. Huwag natin i-interpret ito na something that would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty, na something na mas magkakaroon ng mas malaking kaguluhan.”

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Business groups condemn ‘harassment’ of PH troops after clash with China

(Let’s not call this an armed attack. Let’s not interpret this as something that would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty, that would cause a bigger issue.)

In a statement on Saturday, the once-ruling Liberal Party condemned China’s “harassment” and said they were “worried” about Bersamin’s statement that the incident was only a “misunderstanding.” 

“Striking a delicate balance between defending or fighting for our sovereignty and avoiding an escalation of tensions cannot translate to downplaying [what] are clearly illegal, aggressive and even barbaric acts of the CCG. We must vigorously assert our sovereign rights and demand justice for the harassment and injuries inflicted upon our troops,” the party said. 

1Sambayan also condemned the incident and called on the Marcos government “to be more proactive in addressing such coercive acts.”

“We emphasize that Ayungin Shoal is part of [the] Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and thus the Philippines has the sole right to maintain a structure on Ayungin Shoal. Moreover, the inflatable boats of the Philippine Navy enjoy sovereign immunity as auxiliary vessels of a Philippine warship,” the group said. – With reports from Jairo Bolledo/ Rappler.com


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  1. CN

    I don’t understand the Philippine government’s ambiguous characterization of China’s incursions and harassment of the re-supply missions to Ayungin Shoal. If ramming PH vessels and using knives and tear gas against PCG sailors is not an “armed attack”, then what is? As for diplomacy, I think the only acceptable thing to China is: “Surrender and give up the claim to WPS”

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.