The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) has denounced what it describes as “shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges” of China Coast Guard (CCG) against two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels in the vicinity waters of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough or Panatag Shoal) late last month.
NTF-WPS Chairman and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said BRP Gabriela Silang (OPV-8301), an offshore patrol vessel, and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), a multi-role response vessel (MRRV), were conducting routine patrols and maritime exercises when they were challenged by the CCG ships last April 24 and 25.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges conducted by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) against PCG vessels BRP Gabriela Silang and BRP Sindangan, during legitimate law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises while in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc (BdM) on 24-25 April 2021,” Esperon said in a statement issued on Tuesday night, May 4.
He described the incident as a violation of Philippine sovereignty.
Esperon said the PCG vessels were accompanied by two Philippine vessels when the incident occurred: the BFAR MCS (monitoring, control, and surveillance) 3005 which was accompanying BRP Sindangan en route Bajo de Masinloc, and BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403), a multi-role response vessel of the PCG, which was sailing towards Kalayaan municipality in Palawan.
Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough or Panatag Shoal) is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales which is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
However, China also claims ownership over the shoal using their so-called “nine-dash line,” a reasoning that is based on Beijing’s “historical rights,” but was already debunked by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2016 through an arbitral ruling. It was the same ruling that recognized the Philippines sovereign rights over the WPS at the expense of China’s claims.
The incident happened as the country maintains the deployment of law enforcement patrols and conduct of maritime exercises over the waters of Kalayaan town and in the WPS amid the continued intrusion of Chinese vessels.
“The NTF-WPS emphasizes that the maritime exercises and patrols routinely conducted by the PCG and BFAR are part of the maritime law enforcement activities of its member-agencies in the exercise of Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over our territorial seas and EEZ, respectively,” Esperon said.
The official said the government will remain undeterred in defending the country’s national interest, patrimony, and the dignity of the Filipino people.
“The Philippine Government shall not shirk from its constitutional obligation to preserve and protect our territorial integrity, and the exercise of our sovereign rights. We reiterate our call to all nations and stakeholders to reconsider their actions, cooperate, and comply with their international obligations,” Esperon stressed.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday filed fresh diplomatic protests against CCG’s actions towards the PCG vessels, which it described as “belligerent.”
Esperon, for his part, said the NTF-WPS welcomed the recent diplomatic protests logged by the DFA against the illegal Chinese activities in the Philippine territory and EEZ within the WPS.
Meanwhile, Esperon said the NTF-WPS also notes the announcement of China that it will impose a unilateral fishing ban on Chinese fishing vessels in some areas in the South China Sea from May 1 to August 16. The specific location covered by the fishing moratorium is the 12th parallel north of the equator.
“This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen and the NTF-WPS opposes China’s imposition of the same over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines,” he said.
“The NTF-WPS reiterates that our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS,” he added.
Further, Esperon said that regular patrols are also being conducted around Pagasa (Thitu) Island, including the four cays nearby it. He said this proves that the claim of retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio that the country lost Sandy Cay, one of the four cays, to China in 2017 was untrue.
Sovereignty patrols were also conducted on Sabina Shoal, located 130 nautical miles west of Puerto Princesa, Palawan and east of Ayungin Shoal, on April 27 where PCG and BFAR personnel monitored seven Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels that were “nested or in stationary linear formation.”
Esperon said the PCG personnel aboard BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) “issued a series of challenges to the offending vessels” but failed to get a response from the CMMs. The Chinese vessels dispersed and left the area after 20 minutes, he noted.
Two days later, the BRP Cabra returned to Sabina Shoal and again observed five CMMs. The CMMs left the area upon the arrival of BRP Cabra, Esperon said. (Martin A. Sadongdong)