A FILIPINO civilian vessel re-supplying soldiers stationed at the contested Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea has reportedly been harassed by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel.
An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident occurred sometime last month and the re-supply mission was a “Wescom (AFP Western Command) activity.”
The source said the Filipino vessel was blocked by the Chinese but was later allowed to proceed to its mission.
“They are bullies, (they) harass civilian vessels, which is not good,” the source said.
“Our only mistake is we didn’t raise our flag. Whether you’re civilian or military, your flag should be raised during your voyage,” the source added referring to the practice of hoisting flags in international waters.
The source explained that the military taps civilian vessels to make “unscheduled” re-supply missions for the troops manning nine areas in the West Philippine Sea.
“But during scheduled re-supply, we use our uniformed (Navy) vessel,” he said.
In May, a Chinese Coast Guard ship harassed a civilian vessel which was also on a re-supply mission to Ayungin Shoal, said a recent Department of National Defense report.
The source said the Chinese has not left the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal in the past years.
“There’s always one Chinese vessel in the area but there will be additional vessels when we have re-supply missions,” he said.
“They (Chinese) are roaming around. They are patrolling the area. Normally, these vessels are stationed at (the Chinese-occupied) Mischief Reef which is in close proximity to Ayungin,” the source said.
Defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong assured the public the Armed Forces is constantly conducting patrols and maintaining presence at the Ayungin Shoal and other Philippine-occupied islands and features in the West Philippine Sea.
“We always have a keen interest in the movement of craft and vessels in the area and we report all sightings of foreign vessels to the National Task Force WPS and the Department of Foreign Affairs for appropriate action,” said Andolong.
The West Philippine Sea covers areas in the South China Sea, which are being claimed by the Philippines. China claims the entire South China Sea while the Philippines claims it in parts, like Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he has ordered the filing of another diplomatic protest against China over the presence of its Coast Guard vessels near the Ayungin Shoal.
Prior to this, the DFA has also filed a series of diplomatic protests against the unannounced passage of Chinese warships in Philippine waters, according to Locsin.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the military recorded 13 incidents of Chinese warships passing through the country’s waters unannounced since February this year. Nine incidents were at the Sibutu Strait in Sulu and four at Palawan’s Balabac Strait.
Diplomatic protests were also filed over the “swarming” of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea. – With Ashzel Hachero