By Priam Nepomuceno

HARASSMENT. A Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel (with a green deck) blasts a Philippine civilian vessel with a water cannon while on its way for the rotation and reprovisioning of troops at BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on March 5, 2024. The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday (April 30) condemned another incident of Chinese harassment which involved CCG ships water cannoning Philippine vessels on their way to provide humanitarian assistance to Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal. (Photo courtesy of AFP Facebook)

MANILA – The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Tuesday condemned the latest incident of Chinese harassment which involved China Coast Guard (CCG) ships water cannoning Philippine vessels on their way to provide humanitarian assistance to Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal (also known as Bajo De Masinloc and Scarborough Shoal).

“Earlier today CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels harassed, blocked, water cannoned, rammed vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) en route to Panatag Shoal to conduct a regular humanitarian and assistance mission to Filipino fishing boats in and around the area,” it said in a statement.

These Filipino ships are the PCG BRP Bagacay (MMRV-4410) and BFAR’s BRP Bankaw (MMOV-3004). The incident also demonstrated China’s willingness to obstruct a Philippine humanitarian mission, the task force said.

These illegal actions were witnessed by members of the local and foreign press, who are routinely invited to embed in these regular BFAR humanitarian and assistance missions for fisherfolk throughout the WPS and other maritime areas.

“Today, the embedded press on the PCG and BFAR vessels have not only witnessed but also experienced first-hand, alongside the determined PCG and BFAR personnel, the illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous actions of the agents of the Chinese Communist Party and their CCG and CMM,” NTF-WPS said.

At this time, both PCG and BFAR vessels have regrouped approximately 20 nautical miles from Panatag Shoal.

Crew members of the two ships are now conducting damage, assessments and are reorganizing following the severe water cannoning by CCG vessels.

“Initial reports from PCG and BFAR personnel onboard, as reflected by live media reports, indicate that the PCG vessel suffered some damage to a part of its superstructure from targeted high-pressure water cannoning by CCG vessels,” the task force said.

Meanwhile, the BRP Bankaw sustained damage to heating,ventilation, and air conditioning systems; electrical, navigation, and radio systems; and superficial hull damage.

The BFAR ship was subjected to at least eight instances of targeted high-pressure water cannoning from Chinese vessels and was rammed a total of three times by both CCG and CMM craft.

“These latest demonstrations of China’s illegal and irresponsible behavior highlight their egregious disregard for the Philippines’ lawful exercise of its rights and entitlements in our own EEZ. Clearly, China has no regard for the welfare of our fishermen who only want to make a decent living in the WPS. China’s act of obstructing civilian ships carrying only supplies for our fishermen calls into question the sincerity of their call for dialogue and peaceful approaches to de-escalate the situation in the WPS,” NTF-WPS added.

It also said the Philippines will continue to act peacefully and responsibly, consistent with rules-based international law, based on United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the valid and binding 2016 Arbitral Award.

Peace and stability in the region cannot be achieved if countries, big or small, do not exercise due regard for the well-established and legally-settled rights of others.

“The Philippines will not be deterred from pursuing legitimate and lawful activities in our maritime zones, including in BDM which is a vital source of livelihood for our fisherfolk,” NTF-WPS said. (PNA)