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CHINA UNDER FIRE ANEW OVER PHL SHIPS ‘ATTACKS;’ Beijing told to leave West Philippine Sea

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – As tension escalated to new height between the Philippines and China over Beijing’s continued belligerence and “dangerous maneuvers” in the West Philippine Sea, Philippine officials moved to re-calibrate its plans for the region in order to protect the country’s territory and its vast exclusive economic zone as the Philippines filed new diplomatic protest against China.

At the same time, the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, in one of its strongest words, “firmly asked” China to stop lingering in waters around Ayungin Shoal as it summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian who is urged to be expelled for “questionable” behavior, including alleged confrontation with Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., who was on board a Philippine supply boat which was watercannoned by the China Coast Guard.

In sum, the Philippines, through DFA asked China to direct its vessels to cease and desist from what it said were illegal actions and dangerous maneuvres against Philippine vessels, and stop interfering in legitimate Philippine activities.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and other countries have expressed support for the Philippines and condemned the actions of China.
The United States  called out China for interfering in the Philippines’ maritime operations and undermining regional stability, and urged Beijing to stop “its dangerous and destabilizing conduct” in the strategic waters.
The US, at the same time, reaffirmed its commitment to the mutual defense treaty between Washington and Manila, and called for stability after what it called China’s “unsafe… operational behaviour,” a Pentagon spokesperson said

Earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called China’s actions in the disputed waters an “outright and blatant violation of international law” and that the country will “remain undeterred.”

“The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese maritime militia against our vessels and personnel over the weekend have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” Marcos said a post on X.
China’s continued harassment of Filipino vessels  “further steeled” the country’s determination to protect its sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea where only the Philippines has the legal basis to operate, President Marcos Jr. declared.

Marcos reiterated that the Ayungin Shoal, also named Second Thomas Shoal but called by China as Ren’ai Jiao, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and that any foreign claim over it is baseless and contrary to international law.

“No one but the Philippines has a legitimate right or legal basis to operate anywhere in the West Philippine Sea,” the president said in a statement.

“The illegal presence in our waters and dangerous actions against our citizens is an outright and blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order.”

He added that he directed the country’s uniformed services to conduct its missions in the contested waters with “the utmost regard for the safety of our personnel, yet proceed with a mission-oriented mindset.”

 Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., meanwhile, said China has no peaceful agenda when it comes to the West Philippine Sea (WPS), as China continues its aggression in the area by inflicting ‘serious engine damage” on a Philippine vessel after being blasted with water cannon by the China Coast Guard (CCG) and swarming the Philippine waters with China war ships, Coast Guard vessels and militia boats disguised as fishing boats.

“Kung tayo ay pumayag sa iligal at roguish behavior nila, magiging acceptance ‘yun. Hindi natin pwede gawin ‘yun,” Teodoro said.

“Ang intent dito ng China ay kupkupin ang buong South China Sea, kasi ‘yan ang sinasabi nila, pag-aari nila. ‘Yan naman, hindi tayo pwede pumayag dahil wala sa batas ‘yun. Wala sa international law,” he added.

“We have a plan. That is not to yield because of the fact that our operations — ang ating ginagawa ay base sa batas [our actions are based on the law],” he said.

As defense chief, Teodoro said he will build a resilient and credible deterrent force as soon as possible.

Teodoro has also called on the public to unite on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Foreign ambassadors took to social media  to condemn China’s “dangerous actions” in the West Philippine Sea, after back-to-back incidents where Chinese vessels fired water cannons at Philippine ships over the weekend.

“The US stands with the Philippines and partners in vehemently condemning the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) repeated illegal and dangerous actions against vessels, including disrupting the resupply mission to the Sierra Madre today,” United States Ambassador MaryKay Carlson posted on X (formerly Twitter).

“PRC aggression undermines regional stability in defiance of a #FreeAndOpenIndo Pacific,” she added.

European Union Ambassador Luc Veron also expressed concern over the “deeply troubling” incidents and stood in support of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea..

“The 2016 UNCLOS Tribunal Award is a valuable framework for peaceful resolution. Water cannons and dangerous sea maneuvers aren’t a legitimate alternative,” Veron said.

The New Zealand embassy in Manila sees China’s actions as “real risks to safety and lives.”

French ambassador Marie Fontanel also aired her county’s concerns over the use of water cannons and reiterated their support for the 2016 Arbitral Ruling against China.

In a related development, former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio proposed that the Philippines ask the United States for support with its resupply missions, after China’s repeated aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Carpio earlier said that Manila should build a civilian structure such as a lighthouse or marine research center on Ayungin Shoal where BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded since 1999.

“The other strategy is [to] ask the US to accompany us when we conduct the resupply mission,” he said, noting that the Philippines “will have the naval might of the US behind us.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia of repeatedly firing water cannons at its resupply boats, causing “serious engine damage” to one, and “deliberately” ramming another. AFP Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Romeo Brawner was onboard a vessel that was both sprayed with a water cannon and rammed.

“This is a serious escalation on the part of the agents of the People’s Republic of China,” Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson of the National Security Council, said in a press conference where officials showed images and videos of the water cannons and ramming.

Some leaders also want that Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime Florcruz be recalled for alleged failure to bridge the gaps between the Philippines and China.

In a statement, the DFA said it summoned Huang to convey Manila’s “strong protest” against the Chinese forces’ aggressive and harassing actions in the West Philippine Sea over the weekend.

DFA Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro verbally delivered the protest over the dangerous maneuvers of Chinese vessels that led to collision, illegal shadowing, and undue use of water cannons during the country’s rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

The DFA said it reiterated to Huang that Ayungin Shoal is not an island but a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

“As such, the Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the feature. As a low-tide elevation, Ayungin Shoal can neither be the subject of a sovereignty claim nor is it capable of appropriation under international law,” the DFA said in a statement.

Lazaro also emphasized that the Philippines’ resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre are part of the country’s regular operations and are in line with domestic and international law.

She emphasized that China has no right to interfere with the Philippines’ legitimate activities in the Philippines’ own EEZ, including in the waters around Ayungin Shoal.

The actions of the Chinese vessels within the Philippine EEZ are illegal and violate the freedom of navigation, the DFA said.

The DFA said China should comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration, and the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

It also called on China to adhere to its commitments under the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

In addition, the DFA conveyed Manila’s strong protest against China’s dangerous maneuvers and use of water cannons against three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels – the Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw, and Datu Tamblot – on Dec. 9.

The DFA lamented that it was a humanitarian and support mission to provide fuel and grocery packages to Filipino fisherfolk who are “only trying to fish in their traditional fishing ground of Bajo de Masinloc.”

The same messages were likewise conveyed by the DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Beijing to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs the previous day, it said.