West Philippine Sea

View from Manila: Philippines downplays China’s new coast guard regulations as just ‘scare tactics’

Bea Cupin

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

View from Manila: Philippines downplays China’s new coast guard regulations as just ‘scare tactics’

Members and supporters of Atin Ito coalition gather at the Matalvis Port, as they prepare to board civilian boats for their second civilian supply mission, this time in the exclusive economic zone off the coast of Masinloc, Zambales, and the general vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc, on May 15, 2024.

Atin Ito

Issues related to Ayungin Shoal – the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and the alleged wiretapping of a phone call with Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos – become the subject of Congressional inquiries

MANILA, Philippines –  The Philippines’ security sector on Monday, May 20, called on Filipino fisherfolk not to be afraid of the latest regulation of the China Coast Guard (CCG) on “Chinese waters.” The new directive would not have an effect because it has no legal basis, they said in a press conference.

“Continue fishing in the West Philippine Sea. You are backed by the law and your government,” said National Security Council spokesperson Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya.

Malaya, alongside Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela, downplayed the new regulation as “nothing more than part of China’s scare tactics” in the West Philippine Sea. 

He said the regulations, which direct the CCG to arrest or detain “any person in the South China Sea high seas without trial” was “provocative, escalatory,” and only “increases the tensions” in the region. 

The regulation, which takes effect in June, enforces a 2021 law that allows the CCG “to fire on foreign vessels when its sovereignty and sovereign rights are infringed,” according to a Reuters report. 

Malaya went a step further, urging neighboring states Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia to also “ignore [China’s] illegal regulations and sail in these waters to the extent that international law allows.”

China’s new coast guard regulations were made public just as a fleet of over 46 Chinese vessels were deployed to the vicinity of Panatag or Scarborough Shoal ahead of the Atin Ito coalition’s flotilla of wooden fishing boats

While China has yet to truly act on its threats in the West Philippine Sea – its actions have been just as dangerous. In Ayungin and Panatag shoals, strong water cannons have become part of the CCG’s arsenal of tools. 

Filipino fisherfolk see harassment from Chinese ships as a standing threat, even if, as Tarriela pointed out, they’ve devised their own strategies in places like Panatag Shoal to evade the CCG. 

It would be dumb of China to follow through with their threats, said Tarriela. After all, the thought of mighty CCG steel-hulled vessels chasing down the wooden ships of Filipino fisherfolk or even the smaller steel-hulled vessels of the PCG would “create more problems than solutions.”

But that’s precisely what has happened in the West Philippine Sea.

Thus far, the “scare tactics” haven’t worked because Filipino mariners – the Navy, PCG, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, among others – are brave. They haven’t totally worked because our fisherfolk are courageous and because they have no choice but to venture out into the open sea for their livelihoods. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to say if it’s communicated with China or filed a protest over its latest coast guard regulation. 

Damage in Panatag 

But the presser with Malaya and Tarriela on Monday wasn’t held to denounce and belittle the new CCG regulation.

On Monday, the two spokesperson made public, for the first time, images from 2017 to 2019 that show China’s actions in Scarborough Shoal, a flashpoint for tensions then and now between China and the Philippines. 

Beijing has had effective control of the shoal since 2012, after it reneged on a United States-brokered deal to end a stand-off with the Philippines. Between six and eight Chinese vessels patrol the lagoon and the shoal’s vicinity at all times. 

Filipino fisherfolk can only dream of accessing its calm and once-bountiful waters. Emphasis on once-bountiful. 

Photos from 2017 to 2019 suggest a shoal that’s been through the wringer. Tarriela, citing Filipino fisherfolk who’ve been able to go near the shoal, said there are practically no more giant clams left. The PCG said they haven’t monitored giant clam harvesting in Panatag since 2019 – probably because there are none left to take.  

To be clear, these images are new to the public, but not new to the government – they were submitted to top government agencies under the Duterte administration. Most photos and incidents were reported to no less than the Office of the President. 

When we asked what the national government then did after seeing the PCG’s reports, Tarriela didn’t miss a beat.

“I don’t know,” he told the press conference. Malaya, an interior department official under Duterte, said he didn’t know either. 

Duterte largely deferred to Beijing during his presidency, especially when it came to the West Philippine Sea. His non-negotiables, it seemed, was the safety and livelihoods of civilians – the residents of Pagasa Island and fisherfolk in Panatag Shoal, for instance. 

In Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, Duterte negotiated that fisherfolk be allowed in its vicinity but not its lagoon. China also agreed it would not build on the shoal it now had control over. 

But the status quo agreement also apparently meant that the Philippines would not fortify its outpost in Ayungin Shoal, where the BRP Sierra Madre was run aground on purpose in 1999. 

WPS in Philippine Congress 

After weeks (even months) of the Philippines and China’s diplomatic word war, Philippine legislators are finally tackling in their most august halls two alleged deals concerning the West Philippine Sea. 

On Monday, May 20, the House began probing the supposed “gentleman’s agreement” between the Duterte administration and China on Ayungin Shoal and the West Philippine Sea. 

The first hearing at the Batasang Pambansa wasn’t as explosive as you’d expect, ostensibly since high-ranking Duterte-era officials – from the security and diplomatic sectors – were nowhere to be found.

On Wednesday, the Senate – fresh off its pre-legislative break leadership upheaval – will be tackling the alleged wiretapping of the Chinese embassy in Manila of their alleged phone call with Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos. 

Carlos, by the way, is officially the former commander of the proud Western Command. Sometime between the announcement of Carlos’s personal leave and a recent visit of Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro to Pagasa Island, Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. had apparently been designated Wescom’s new commander. 

The Chinese embassy in Manila has notably eased from pressing on what it calls the “new model” on Ayungin Shoal, after releasing to Philippine newspapers the purported recording and a partial transcript. 

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian has been invited to the hearing, although Congress cannot compel him to show up. Carlos has been invited too. Unlike Huang, Carlos doesn’t have the privilege of diplomatic norms and graces to protect him from having to actually show up. 

So will Carlos show up before the Senate? Will senators compel him to attend hearings? And if he does show up, what would he have to say? – Rappler.com 

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


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.