MANILA – The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) condemned the "illegal and aggressive actions" conducted by China Coast Guard (CCG) ships against three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels providing humanitarian support to Filipino fisherfolk off Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on Saturday.
The task force identified the BFAR ships as the BRP Datu Sanday, BRP Bankaw, and BRP Datu Tamblot, which were tasked to deliver oil subsidies and grocery packs to more than 30 Filipino fishing vessels as part of a humanitarian and support mission.
"Based on the reports received, as the BFAR vessels approached 1.4 to 1.9 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc, the CCG ships utilized water cannons to obstruct and prevent BFAR vessels from approaching the Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the oil subsidy and grocery packs. The water cannons had been used at least eight times at the time of reporting," the NTF-WPS statement read.
It also said the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels were reported to have engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed what is claimed to be a long-range acoustic device against the BFAR vessels, causing severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew.
"Water cannon action resulted in significant damage to BFAR vessel Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment, as it was directly and deliberately targeted by the CCG," it added.
The NTF-WPS statement insisted that the Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc immediately.
"We demand that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities and uphold the principles of international law and desist from actions that would infringe on Philippine sovereignty and endanger the lives and livelihood of Filipino fishermen who have traditionally fished in the area. The NTF-WPS remains committed to protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea," the task force stated.
The NTF-WPS said the Chinese deployed rigid hull inflatable boats to drive away Filipino fishing vessels awaiting the distribution of supplies from the BFAR ships.
"To prevent the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane," it added.
The NTF-WPS said Filipino fisherfolk reported that the CCG launched a small boat early Saturday morning to illegally install a floating barrier at the southeast entrance of the shoal.
Such actions of the CCG and CMM prevented the BFAR vessel from accessing the entrance of the shoal.
"We stress that Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide feature with territorial sea, per the 2016 Arbitral Award. It forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution. The Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and its territorial sea. The 2016 Arbitral Award has also clarified that Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the waters of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law," the task force added.
It added that China's illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of the international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Arbitral Award.
Bajo de Masinloc, located 124 nautical miles off Zambales, is well within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China says otherwise
Sought for comment, the Chinese Embassy in Manila forwarded a statement from Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin, accusing the Philippines of “hyping up maritime disputes” with China while calling it to stop infringing on its sovereignty.
The Chinese side said Manila and Beijing should “return to the right track of resolving maritime disputes through negotiation and consultation as soon as possible and work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
China claims sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc, which it calls Huangyan Dao or Huangyan Island.
US, Japan condemns China
United States Ambassador MaryKay Carlson condemned and described China's actions as “aggressive and illegal."
Carlson said the BFAR ships were lawfully operating within the Philippine EEZ and that China’s behavior “violates international law and endangers lives and livelihoods.”
“We stand with our Philippine friends, partners, allies in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa also sounded the alarm over the use of water cannons and reiterated Japan’s recognition of the 2016 arbitral ruling.
“Seriously concerned about the dangerous actions by CCG vessels against Philippine vessels, which endanger lives and livelihoods and pose the threat to the peace and stability in South China Sea,” he said on X.
“We reiterate the importance of upholding international law, particularly UNCLOS and 2016 Arbitral Award.”
Canadian Ambassador David Hartman labeled China’s actions as “dangerous and escalatory.”
Hartman reiterated that the 2016 ruling is final and binding on the parties.
European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron, meanwhile, said “the EU recalls that UNCLOS dispute settlement mechanisms contribute to maintaining and advancing the rule of law.”
“The 2016 UNCLOS Tribunal Award is legally binding and useful for peacefully resolving disputes. Water cannons aren’t!” Veron said. (PNA)