By Darryl John Esguerra

RESUPPLY MISSION. Philippine Navy soldiers transfer essential cargoes from Unaizah May 4 and BRP Cabra to the BRP Sierra Madre off Ayungin Shoal on Saturday (March 23, 2024). The resupply boat Unaizah May 4 was damaged by yet another water cannon attack by the China Coast Guard. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – The United States (US) has denounced China for its “dangerous actions” that could destabilize the region and disregard international law after Chinese Coast Guard’s (CCG) water cannon attack that severely damaged a Philippine vessel and injured its crew members during a routine resupply (RORE) mission to the country’s outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

The US State Department has also reaffirmed its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the US and the Philippines.

“The United States reaffirms that Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement dated March 23.

The seven-decade old defense pact dictates that the US and the Philippines would support each other if either of them were to be attacked by an external party.

The Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) reported Saturday morning that CCG vessels, along with Chinese maritime militia vessels, “acted recklessly and dangerously” against the country’s resupply boat Unaizah May 4 (UM4) and its Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) escort vessels.

This ended with two CCG ships water cannoning the UM4, causing severe damage to the boat and injuries to the Filipino crew members onboard.

The NTF-WPS said the Chinese vessels even attempted to obstruct the PCG escort vessels from providing immediate relief and assistance to the disabled UM4 and its crew, but the PCG ships were able to break through and provide medical attention to the injured crew.

To complete the RORE mission, BRP Sierra Madre which serves as the Philippines’ outpost in Ayungin Shoal, deployed rigid-hulled inflatable boats to UM4 to ferry personnel. 

READ: PH resupply boat heavily damaged after another CCG water cannon attack

READ: Filipino crew injured; PH reprimands China over latest harassment

According to Miller, China’s actions “are destabilizing to the region and show clear disregard for international law,” adding that the 2016 Arbitral ruling clearly disregarded Beijing’s expansive claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) and that the submerged reef is clearly within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.

“As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and the Philippines, and the United States calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct,” the US official said.

The Philippines, along with Southeast Asian neighbors Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with China, which is claiming virtually the entire resource-rich region, including maritime features in the West Philippine Sea that are well within Manila’s EEZ.

Japan stands with PH

Meanwhile, the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines has also expressed “grave concern” over what it described as China’s “repeated dangerous actions” in the South China Sea.

“Japan stands in solidarity with the PH as confirmed at the (Japan-PH-US) Vice Foreign Ministers’ meeting held in this week,” the embassy said in an X (Twitter) post.

The incident comes ahead of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s visit to Washington where he is set to hold a trilateral leaders’ summit with his US and Japanese counterparts on April 11.

According to the White House, Marcos, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Fumio will discuss a broad range of areas, including economic and security cooperation, among others. (PNA)