Philippines again summons Chinese envoy over latest water cannon attack

PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD PHOTO

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES on Thursday summoned China’s envoy to protest its coast guard’s use of water cannons that damaged two of Manila’s vessels in the South China Sea this week.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had also protested the harassment, ramming, shadowing and other “dangerous maneuvers of the Chinese maritime vessels against the Philippine Coast Guard” near the Scarborough Shoal.

“The Philippines demanded that Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) and its vicinity immediately,” it said, citing the agency’s meeting with Zhou Zhiyong, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

Philippine officials have said a PCG ship and a fishery vessel were damaged when Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannons at them while on their way to the disputed Scarborough Shoal to help Filipino fishermen.

“The DFA should not bend down in calling the attention of the Chinese envoy in Manila every time they practice maritime coercion and unjust behavior to our Filipino coast guardians,” Chester B. Cabalza, founding president of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The Chinese envoy should be reminded to stop their aggressive water cannons in our rotation and reprovisioning missions since this is a routinary practice of our maritime law enforcers. We need to hear the justification of China to maintain our sound and unbiased judgment,” he added.

The Philippines should also use diplomatic dialogue to “showcase to the world how it handles China’s unacceptable hostility in our exclusive economic zone, Mr. Cabalza said.

Manila’s coast guard on Tuesday said two China Coast Guard ships had used jet stream water cannons against its vessel sailing some 1,000 yards away from the Scarborough Shoal, resulting in damage to its railing and canopy.

A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel’s electrical, navigation and radio systems were also damaged after being rammed thrice by Beijing’s coast guard vessels, it said.

On Tuesday, the PCG said its Chinese counterpart had installed a 380-meter floating barrier that “covers the entire entrance of the shoal.”

In March, Manila summoned the same envoy after the Chinese Coast Guard fired a water cannon at a Philippine resupply mission near Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sovereignty.

The Philippines has filed 153 diplomatic protests against China under the Marcos administration, 20 in all this year, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza told reporters in a WhatsApp message.

The European Union, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada and Finland have expressed concern over the latest water cannon incident and other “dangerous maneuvers” by China in the waterway.

A spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday said Scarborough Shoal, which it calls Huangyan Dao, “has always been China’s territory” and urged the Philippines to “stop making infringement and provocations at once and not to challenge China’s resolve to defend our sovereignty.”

PCG spokesman Jay Tristan Tarriela told a news briefing on Wednesday that China has “elevated the tension and the level of their aggression” in the South China Sea after attacking Manila’s coast guard vessel.

“This is the first time that we can say that a coast guard vessel has been subjected to a direct water cannon with that kind of pressure that even resulted in structural damage,” he said, noting that “Goliath is becoming more Goliath.”

“They don’t hesitate to use brute force to violate international law,” he added.

Tensions between the two countries have worsened in the past year as China’s coast guard continues to block Philippine resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal.

In 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal in the Hague voided China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. It also upheld the rights of small-scale Filipino and Chinese fishermen to fish at Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal is 240 kilometers west of the main Philippine island of Luzon and is nearly 900 kilometers from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese landmass.