Palace not considering China’s recent harassment in Ayungin as armed attack

MANILA. In this image from a video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Filipino sailors look after a Chinese coast guard ship with bow number 5203 bumps their supply boat as they approach Second Thomas Shoal, locally called Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on October 22, 2023.
MANILA. In this image from a video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Filipino sailors look after a Chinese coast guard ship with bow number 5203 bumps their supply boat as they approach Second Thomas Shoal, locally called Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on October 22, 2023.AP

THE Malacañang is not considering China’s recent harassment of Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as an armed attack.

In a press briefing on Friday, June 21, 2024, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said the incident may be “a misunderstanding or an accident.”

“No, well this was probably a misunderstanding or accident, we are not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack. I don't know kung 'yung mga nakita namin is mga bolo, ax, nothing beyond that,” Bersamin said.

On June 17, China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel harassed navy personnel conducting a routine rotation and resupply (Rore) mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, where they used tear gas, brandished bladed weapons, punctured the Philippine Navy’s rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), and destroyed the communication system of the boat as well as the cellphones of the Filipino personnel.

A navy personnel also lost his thumb due to the CCG’s "intentional high-speed ramming" of a Philippine vessel.

It took around 12 hours to rescue the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner said the CCG personnel acted like “pirates” during the incident. The AFP called China’s manner “barbaric.”

In the same press briefing, Presidential Assistant on Maritime Concerns retired General Andres Centino said the National Maritime Council (NMC) chaired by Bersamin is concerned about the incident.

However, Bersamin said elevating the incident to a higher international body is not yet on the table as he expressed belief that the matter can be resolved by the two countries.

“That’s not yet in consideration (bringing the matter to a global body) because I think this is a matter that can easily be resolved very soon by us. And if China wants to work with us, we can work with China,” he said.

He said the council recognizes a peaceful, stable, and prosperous West Philippine Sea and South China Sea is still a distant reality.

He said the council recognizes that a peaceful, stable, and prosperous West Philippine Sea and South China Sea are still a distant reality.

The council recommended to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to implement a policy on announcing the Rore missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, which shall remain routine and be scheduled regularly.

“We just don't know that if the reason for this is there was no prior knowledge on the part of China that we were resupplying. They know that we had to resupply, that we were resupplying, it's just a normal routinary matter,” Bersamin said.

“So in the best interest of all parties, I think it was a wise decision for the President to accept our recommendation to publicize the schedule for activities without giving up anything. Wala namang masama doon,” he added.

Centino said that by making such an announcement, the Philippines is asserting its sovereign rights and sovereignty in the area.

'Not armed attack'

In a media forum on Saturday, June 22, National Task Force on WPS, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commodore Jay Tarriela said they believe that it is not China’s intention to cause a wide armed aggression.

“Ang mga kababayan nating Pilipino, kung iniisip nila na magkakaroon ng malakihang digmaan o giyera, so we have to go back, ano ba objective ng Philippine government dito, at ano objective ng China,” he said.

(Our fellow Filipinos, if they think that there will be a large-scale war or conflict, we need to go back and ask: what is the objective of the Philippine government here, and what is the objective of China?)

“Again, our objective is to resupply, the Chinese objective is to prevent the resupply from happening. That is the only thing that happened there in the resupply mission,” he added.

Tarriela said they do not yet see the need for the Philippines to tap any foreign body to support the Rore mission.

Professor and lawyer Jay Batongbacal, however, said what the country needs is for the international community to support the Philippines by condemning China over its actions.

He said China must be held accountable for having caused damage to Philippine vessels in order to disable the Filipino troops.

Batongbacal said he also believes that the dispute between the Philippines and China can still be resolved.

“The important thing is for the Philippines to show where the country stands. That the Philippines is still open for peaceful negotiations. There are rules and jurisprudence on this issue particularly in International Humanitarian Law and the laws of armed conflict. And in those rules or laws, incidents such as skirmishes, isolated skirmishes, geographically-isolated skirmishes may be considered as what legally might be classified as 'frontier incidents',” he said.

“These are not yet enough to be considered as an armed attack that warrants the engagement in self-defense or the right of self-defense and collective self-defense, also under the UN charter. And the intention here is to give space also for diplomatic resolution of the disputes between states which have the skirmishes,” he added. (TPM/SunStar Philippines)

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