By Martin Sadongdong
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered the Philippine Navy to submit a comprehensive incident report on the reported harassment by a Chinese ship of the BRP Conrado Yap (PS39), a corvette (small warship), and its crew in the West Philippine Sea back in February.
“I have the instructed the Philippine Navy to give me a detailed briefing on the incident,” Lorenzana told reporters on Wednesday night.
The incident was one of the two items cited by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. as bases for filing of diplomatic protests against the Chinese government,.
The other incident was Beijing’s declaration of two islands within the Philippines’ territory in the West Philippine Sea as part of Hainan province.
The diplomatic protests were received by the Chinese embassy on Wednesday, Locsin said.
Gun-pointing incident, WPS tension
On Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command (WestCom) confirmed that a corvette of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China’s military, confronted BRP Conrado Yap while it was conducting territorial defense and sovereignty patrol operations at the Malampaya Natural Gas to Power Project in Palawan and at Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the West Philippine Sea.
Vice Admiral Rene Medina, commander of WestCom, said BRP Conrado Yap was peacefully sailing in the waters within the Philippine territory on February 17 when it detected radar contact from a gray-colored vessel.
The vessel was eventually identified as a PLAN warship with bow number 514. Medina said the crew of the BRP Conrado Yap observed that the gun control director of the Chinese warship was directed towards them.
A gun control director can be used to track targets and designate an attack against a hostile subject. It can activate all the main guns of a ship so that it could be fired at will in a split second.
Medina said the crew of the BRP Conrado Yap issued a radio challenge, a standard protocol during a naval confrontation, to the Chinese vessel.
The crew of the Chinese vessel responded with: “The Chinese government has imputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, its lands and its adjacent waters,” Medina said.
The BRP Conrado Yap issued another challenge, insisting that it was traversing areas within the Philippine territory, but the Chinese crew claimed otherwise.
Nevertheless, Medina said both vessels continued their respective voyage after the incident.
“This hostile act on the part of Chinese government and encroachment within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is perceived as a clear violation of international law and Philippine sovereignty,” Medina said.
Meanwhile, China recently declared two new administrative units in the South China Sea under the jurisdiction of Sansha City in Hainan province.
The said areas are the Paracel Island Group near Vietnam and the Spratly Island Group in the West Philippine Sea, both of which are being claimed by the Philippines as part of the West Philippine Sea.
The Department of National Defense has yet to issue a statement on the issue.
China’s bold declaration of new territorial units in the South China Sea was seen by other claimant-countries as an act of “opportunism” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, the virus reportedly originated in the Chinese district of Wuhan in Hubei province.
The Philippine government has filed several diplomatic protests against China in recent years.
The protested incidents include, among others: the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat that endangered the lives of local fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, the swarming of Chinese militias in Philippines-owned islands, and the uncoordinated passage of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ territorial seas.