Tolentino tells DFA: Study int'l law violation in CCG's seizure of food supply in Ayungin

Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino expressed his belief that China committed a violation of international law when its forces intercepted on May 19 an airdropped food supply for soldiers stationed at the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

(Photo courtesy of the Office of Senator Francis Tolentino)

“We now see an escalated increase or increase in the horizontal gray zone tactics being used by China. I think the Department of Foreign Affairs should now focus not just on mere diplomatic protest but possible violations of international humanitarian laws,” Tolentino said in a television interview on ANC when asked about the most recent aggression from Chinese forces.

Tolentino, who chairs the Senate Committee on Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Zones, added that what happened was essentially a deprivation of food supplies, which involves the right to life, the right to food, etc., that he said was a form of starvation, a prohibited method of warfare.

He said that even in Gaza, food supplies were allowed airdropped even before the opening of the Rafah gates, which made the incident on May 19 “ostensibly an act of aggression.”

“I challenge the legal department of the Department of Foreign Affairs, in coordination with the Solicitor General’s Office, to really study this matter because this is really an escalation, a horizontal escalation of conflict in Ayungin Shoal,” Tolentino said.

He said the situation has not yet triggered the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States and the aggression he considered “horizontal escalation” and “not in the level of high intensity” to cause “vertical escalation.”

“A vertical escalation would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty. So this is not yet the case. Di pa naman nagbabarilan, pero malapit-lapit na duon (They're not shooting each other yet but it's near there)” Tolentino said.

On the soldiers bearing firearms, the senator said he agreed with armed forces chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.'s statement that the BRP Sierra Madre is still a commissioned ship, so its occupants are authorized to bear arms and defend themselves.

Tolentino traces the overall stance to China’s Global Strategic Initiative (GSI), which Chinese leader Xi Jinping implements and encompasses economic and political movements and initiatives, including the Taiwan issue and African nations.

He asserted that Xi has a handle on the South China Sea issue with the Philippines because he was in charge of it before he became chairman of the China Communist Party.

“We should look at this in a broader spectrum. China is trying to flex its muscles in that area and uplift and alleviate its status economically as a major superpower,” Tolentino said.

The senator thinks global diplomatic pressure would help China understand its proper role in the international community. As the Japanese ambassador asserted, China would not want to be isolated.