MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard on Sunday accused Chinese vessels of engaging in “dangerous” maneuvers during a nine-day patrol near a reef situated off the coast of the country.
The Philippine vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua was dispatched in early February to conduct patrols in the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal, a valuable fishing area in the South China Sea. Its mission included delivering supplies to Filipino fishermen and ensuring their safety.
Scarborough Shoal has been a contentious area between the two nations since China took control of it from the Philippines in 2012. Since then, Beijing has deployed patrol boats, which Manila alleges harass Philippine vessels and obstruct Filipino fishermen from accessing the lagoon where fish are abundant.
The Philippine Coast Guard reported that during the patrol, China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels engaged in “dangerous and obstructive maneuvers at sea against BRP Teresa Magbanua four times, including crossing the bow of the PCG vessel twice.”
Additionally, the Philippine Coast Guard stated that its ship was “shadowed” by four China Coast Guard vessels “on more than 40 occasions.” Furthermore, the Coast Guard observed what it described as “four Chinese Maritime Militia vessels.”
Videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard depict a China Coast Guard vessel coming within meters of the port beam of the BRP Teresa Magbanua before maneuvering across the path of the Filipino boat.
“Nevertheless, the PCG vessel professionally engaged both the CCG and CMM vessels through radio, reiterating the clear and principled position of the Philippines in accordance with international law,” the statement said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not provide an immediate response to a request for comment.
Scarborough Shoal, also known locally as Bajo de Masinloc, is situated 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Philippines’ primary island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometers from the closest significant Chinese landmass of Hainan.
The Philippine Coast Guard distributed food and groceries to around a hundred Filipino fishermen aboard 14 boats, as stated in the announcement.
These incidents occurred two months after tense confrontations between China and the Philippines over disputed reefs in the South China Sea, which involved a collision between vessels from both countries and Chinese ships using water cannons against Philippine boats.
China asserts sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has disregarded a ruling by an international tribunal that deemed its claims without legal merit. To reinforce its claims, China patrols the busy waterway and has constructed artificial islands, which it has equipped with military installations.
Amid escalating tensions, Chinese and Philippine officials agreed last month on the necessity for enhanced dialogue to address “maritime emergencies” in the region.
In a related development, the Department of National Defense criticized China on Saturday for interfering in Philippine internal affairs. This came after China criticized the Philippines’ plans to bolster its military presence on Batanes Island, located opposite Taiwan.
“Relevant parties in the Philippines need to understand clearly, tread carefully, and don’t play with fire on this question to avoid being manipulated and eventually hurt,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
In response, Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said “China has no business warning the Philippines about what it does within its territory.”
“It is the mandate of the Department of National Defense to secure the sovereignty of the State and integrity of the national territory as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution,” Andolong added.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. visited the naval detachment in Navulis at the northern tip of Batanes Island on Tuesday, directing senior military officials to enhance troop presence in the region.
According to Andolong, the government is presently developing a comprehensive archipelagic defense strategy to tackle territorial defense vulnerabilities.
He urged China to avoid provocative language if it desires the respect of other nations.
“China’s pronouncements and acts are the main reasons for its low credibility with the Filipino people,” Andolong said.