By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

DANGEROUS MANEUVERS. The National Security Council holds a press briefing on Monday (Oct. 23, 2023) to discuss the dangerous blocking maneuvers of the China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia vessels that led to a collision with a Philippine resupply boat near Ayungin Shoal on Oct. 22. (From left) National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea spokesperson Jonathan Malaya, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza, Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Comm. Jay Tarriela and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar face the media. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – The latest incident involving a China Coast Guard (CCG) coming into contact with a Philippine military-contracted resupply boat near Ayungin Shoal puts into question Beijing’s commitment to upholding the understanding reached between the Philippine and Chinese leaders, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said the missions the Philippines undertakes within its exclusive economic zone near Ayungin Shoal are humanitarian in nature to resupply Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre.

She added that Philippine activities within the area are consistent with its rights under international law.

“It’s rather difficult to imagine how these activities could be deemed as threatening or provocative to China. Not only did China’s actions endanger lives at sea, they’re also illegal, dangerous, provocative and deplorable,” she said in a press conference at the National Security Council in Quezon City.

“They undermine mutual trust, confidence and respect that should underpin our bilateral relations and put into serious doubt the sincerity of the Chinese side to uphold the understanding between President (Ferdinand R.) Marcos Jr. and President Xi (Jinping),” she added.

Last January, Marcos and Xi “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region and the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea”.

During the two leaders’ meeting, the two sides also established a “direct communication mechanism” between the DFA and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on maritime issues.

Daza said the DFA did not use the hotline this time because “incidents in the past have shown that the usefulness of this mechanism is rather limited”.

The official was referring to the incident off Ayungin Shoal when a CCG vessel used water cannon against a Philippine resupply boat en route to BRP Sierra Madre on Aug. 5.

READ: NSC exec: China’s provocations increasing West PH Sea tensions

On that day, the DFA sought Beijing through the maritime communication mechanism “for several hours” but was unable to reach them.

Daza reiterated that Ayungin is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“This is our EEZ, this is our waters, China has no right to linger in and around the waters of Ayungin Shoal and actually interfere with the Philippines’ legitimate activities in and around Ayungin Shoal,” she said.

‘Heavy responsibility’

Chinese vessels have sailed dangerously close to Philippine ships for a number of instances over the past months but the Oct. 22 incident was the first time a CCG vessel collided with a Filipino boat while making a blocking maneuver.

The latest incident drew international condemnation, including from the United States, Canada, European Union, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan and France.

Daza reminded that “China as a major power bears a heavy responsibility of contributing to peace and stability in the region”.

Hours following the presser, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said its Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong told the DFA to honor the Philippines’ so-called “promise, stop making provocations at sea, stop making dangerous moves, stop groundlessly attacking and slandering China, and to tow away the illegally ‘grounded’ warship”.

Zhou represented Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, who is currently out of town, when the DFA summoned the latter on Monday morning.

In the same briefing, Daza underscored that Marcos has categorically denied the existence of such a promise and “if whether there is such an agreement, he rescinds it”.

“It would help if the media also help us in actually countering narratives that do not have basis – and this is one narrative that’s coming from their end,” she said. (PNA)