PCG: Active role of ‘Chinese militia’ in Ayungin confirmed

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the latest Philippine mission to Ayungin Shoal confirmed the active participation of 'Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels' in blocking resupply ships en route to the BRP Sierra Madre. At the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said the ships' participation were notably 'covert' in previous operations. 'But for this particular resupply mission, it has been very clear that the Chinese maritime militia are performing active role to block the resupply mission,' he said. The government successfully completed a routine rotation and resupply mission on Friday despite the 'blocking, harassment, and dangerous maneuvers' of Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and CCM vessels in the area. Tarriela identified the four CMM vessels as Qiong Sansha Yu 00231, 00115, 00114 and 00008, accompanying four other CCG ships. National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, in the same forum, labeled the acts as China's gray zone tactics, a term often used by security experts to describe activities that are below the threshold of what constitutes aggression to prevent the country from using self-defense. The Philippine government had protested in the past the presence of Chinese vessels near other Philippine features in the West Philippine Sea, including the Julian Felipe Reef -- all of them are within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the country. China also previously admitted that Chinese vessels have been fishing in the waters but denied that militias were aboard the ship. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), foreign countries are allowed to conduct freedom of navigation and overflight operations within the EEZ, but only the Philippines has the exclusive right to exploit all natural resources and conduct law enforcement activities in the area. While the encroachment was clear, Tarriela pointed out that it is still difficult for Manila to carry out law enforcement against the maritime militia vessels. 'It's very difficult for us to categorize the Chinese fishing vessels. Are they just Chinese fishing vessels that are subject to fishery law enforcement or these are Chinese maritime militia which is part of a military establishment that can enjoy sovereign immunity,' he explained. The issue, he said, would also boil down to the PCG's capability to chase away these ships that often come in swarms. 'Most of the time, the size of these Chinese fishing vessels/Chinese maritime militia has an overall length of at least 60 meters and we're talking about by 10s, 20s, 30s and we have a 44-meter coast guard vessel,' he explained. 'The only thing we can do is to challenge them using the radio, telling them to depart, and of course patrolling those areas and reporting that to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS),' he added. Malaya said it is critical for Manila to strengthen partnership with like-minded countries and show China that 'we have this network of alliances that support our position in the West Philippine Sea'. 'We are the rightful possessor already of the West Philippine Sea. Iyan ay atin (that is ours) because it is within our exclusive economic zone," he said. 'We may not have sovereignty over it but we have the right to exploit the natural resources. We allow freedom of navigation according to international law ngunit ang puwede lang makinabang sa EEZ ay ang Pilipinas (but the only one allowed to benefit from that EEZ is the Philippines),' he added. The spokesperson of the CCG on Friday said it will continue its 'law enforcement activities' in the Spratlys, including the waters off Ayungin while insisting on China's 'indisputable sovereignty' over the area. AFP Spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said the 'indisputable claim' over the area is in itself disputable. 'And there are many evidence to prove that: One, the UNCLOS itself; number two, the arbitral ruling; number three, the statement of other states,' he said. 'There is no indisputable claim. The China Coast Guard is a misplaced bully at the West Philippine Sea,' he added. The NTF-WPS said it will 'continue to work tirelessly to protect the Philippines rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea' while strengthening relationships with international partners to maintain stability in the region.

Source: Philippines News Agency