By Priam Nepomuceno

Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal (File photo)

MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said it would ask China to stop interfering with their resupply operations and its harassment of Filipino fishermen plying in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) should the two nations engage in a dialogue to resolve issues in the region.

“Non-interference in our operations is good enough,” AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said in a message.

Aguilar was referring to the regular rotation and resupply (RORE) missions being conducted by the AFP in support of Philippine outposts in the WPS, which have been targeted by China’s recent aggressive actions.

On Dec. 9, Chinese Coast Guard ships harassed and used water cannons on Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels engaged in a humanitarian mission in Bajo De Masinloc, damaging one Filipino boat in the process.

The following day, Chinese vessels performed dangerous maneuvers that damaged one Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship and one Filipino boat tasked to bring supplies to the contingent aboard the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in Ayungin Shoal.

“Yes. Plus non-harassments of our fishermen within the country’s EEZ,” Aguilar said when asked if he would consider it an act of good faith should China comply with their first demand.

However, he said these demands are for the military alone.

“That’s only for the AFP. DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). And DOTr (Department of Transportation) with the PCG under them (may have their own),” Aguilar said.

On Tuesday, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said that while they welcome China’s offer of dialogue, it must first immediately stop its bullying, aggressive actions and illegal moves in the WPS as it seriously undermines regional peace and security.

This is in response to Beijing’s accusation that Manila is encroaching on its territory and making provocative actions in the WPS.

Beijing, however, said it is ready to work with Manila to resolve maritime issues.

“China’s illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, and other activities that infringe upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in the WPS are clear violations of international law,” he added.

Malaya said dialogue can only succeed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and sincerity between two sovereign nations.

He said China is the only country that believes in its narrative and propaganda, and not a single nation has expressed support for its claim of the entire South China Sea.

“The root of all these tensions is its non-adherence to international law, UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and the 2016 Arbitral Award. As the world has seen, it is not the Philippines that has been engaged in provocations, bullying and aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea. In fact, the Philippines has been very restrained and responsible but the same cannot be said of China,” he added. (PNA)