‘Pure harassment, an act of hostility’—senators slam China’s laser-pointing incident in WPS

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Tuesday, February 14, said the use of military-grade laser on Philippine Coast Guard personnel at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) by Chinese Coast Guard is “pure harassment.”

“I will not elevate it to an act of hostility but it's pure harassment done by bullies in the West Philippine Sea,” Zubiri emphasized.

The Senate chief said the Philippines should file a very strong diplomatic protest to the Embassy of China and to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“We will not tolerate this and I hope and pray that they don't do this next time. We urged the Chinese military and Coast Guard to refrain from doing these provocative measures and we continue to support our troops, we continue to support the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard and we thank them for the service of protecting the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Zubiri also allayed fears that the proposed PH-Japan Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) would raise tensions in the WPS.

He said the Japan is one of the several countries that have extended big help to the Philippines during calamities.

“They gave a lot of donations and fund. But they can also now bring troops with the VFA, they can now bring troops to the Philippines para makatulong sa relief and rescue efforts (so they can help in relief and rescue efforts). Katulad ng ginagawa ng Estados Unidos dito sa ating bansa (Just like what the US did here),” added.

Second, Japan can join the PH-US “Balikatan” exercises once the VFA is in place.

“Remember that our Coast Guard boats, 11 coast guard boats are coming from Japan. Galing sa Japan yun (they are coming from Japan) and they are building two more galing din ng (two more) made in Japan. So maganda na meron din tayong VFA sa kanila (It will also be good if we have a VFA with Japan),” he said.

On whether the Senate should issue a resolution condemning China’s harassment, Zubiri said: “You know, I have a feeling that there wil be more to come so we will just probably collate it all in and come up with another resolution condemning the action. It's becoming a weekly event.”

Sen. Francis Tolentino also said the laser-pointing incident cannot be considered an “armed attack” yet in which the Philippines can invoke its mutual defense treaty (MDT) with the United States.

“It is intrusive, it is hostile, in terms of it being “armed,” its not yet there because it’s not lethal, unless an ‘armed attack should be able to produce death, incapacitation. Yung temporary blindness perhaps,” Tolentino said.

“It is an act of hostility. It cannot yet be considered a belligerent act, it’s an act of hostility,” he added.

“It might be a prelude to an armed attack, but it’s not yet. So perhaps it’s preparatory. Pero hindi pa ganun...(enough) to invoke the MDT of 1951. Not yet,” added Tolentino.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go also expressed his deep concern over the report.

“Ayungin Shoal is ours and we have been running resupply missions since we established a permanent post aboard BRP Sierra Madre. I am appealing to the Executive to promptly act on what appeared to be an unsafe act against our people,” Go said.

Go said he is glad that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has filed another strongly worded diplomatic protest against China’s aggressive activities in Ayungin Shoal.

“I am confident that President Bongbong Marcos will always promote our rights in the West Philippine Sea and fight for what is ours. Although my appeal is to resolve any misunderstandings in a peaceful and diplomatic way, I, like former president Duterte's stand — what's ours is ours. What is ours is ours and we should fight for ours. Even though we are a small country, we should not be oppressed because Filipinos are known to be brave, fight, and fight for our rights,” Go said.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III also said the incident cannot be considered an armed attack.

“That is Not an armed attack. And we should not lightly invoke the MDT, as if we want war in our area. Because we should do everything to avoid war. The fly sitting on top of the carabao should be careful and not start thinking that it is bigger and stronger than the carabao,” Pimentel said.

For his part, Sen. Sonny Angara said he hopes the Chinese government “would not resort to these tactics since these are not the acts of a friend.”

“There is no threat posed by our troops as they are just delivering food and supplies to our officers there. Diplomatic channels must be exhausted to resolve these issues to ensure there is no escalation in the future,” Angara said. (With reports from Mario Casayuran)