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Recall ambassador to China over WPS tensions–Tolentino

Senator Francis Tolentino
Macon Ramos-Araneta & Vince Lopez

Senator Francis Tolentino on Sunday urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to recall the Philippine ambassador to Beijing to emphasize the country’s displeasure over Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Tolentino said the temporary recall of Ambassador Jaime Florcruz would send a strong message to Beijing that what they have done is a serious violation of the Philippines’ right to conduct a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

He said this did not mean Manila would sever diplomatic relations with China.

“It would just be a way of telling them to stop and that they are going overboard, hoping they would finally notice us because we have filed hundreds of diplomatic protests,” Tolentino said.

He said recalling the ambassador was one way to protest the latest water cannoning by Chinese Coast Guard of a Philippine supply boat on the way to Ayungin Shoal.

Meanwhile, the commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the actions attributed to the Chinese Coast Guard “do not align with the universally accepted behavior of a coast guard.”

“They are supposed to ensure safety of life at sea, but they are the ones that deliberately violate the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” said PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan.

Gavin said the Chinese vessels’ actions cast “significant doubt” about their real identity.

Video footage from the PCG showed how a CCG vessel deployed its water cannon against a Philippine ship on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on Nov. 10 in the WPS.

CCG vessel 5203 could be seen in the video training its water cannon on M/L Kalayaan as the latter made its way toward Ayungin Shoal.

M/L Kalayaan was one of two supply boats, the other one being Unaizah Mae 1, on a mission then to deliver supplies to Filipino troops stationed at the Philippine Navy ship BRP Sierra Madre which has been grounded since 1999 on Ayungin Shoal. The boats were accompanied by PCG vessels such as the BRP Melchora Aquino.

“CCG vessel 5203 deployed water cannon against Philippine supply vessel M/L Kalayaan in an illegal though unsuccessful attempt to force the latter to alter course,” the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said in a statement last Friday.

“Supply boats Unaizah Mae 1 (UM1) and M/L Kalayaan were also subjected to extremely reckless and dangerous harassment at close proximity by CCG rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIB) inside Ayungin Shoal lagoon during their approach to BRP Sierra Madre,” it added.

“We condemn, once again, China’s latest unprovoked acts of coercion and dangerous maneuvers against a legitimate and routine Philippine rotation and resupply mission,” it said.

On Friday, the Philippine government said it filed a diplomatic protest against China after the water cannon incident.

The PCG said on Saturday it had documented 38 Chinese vessels within the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal during its latest resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

“The total number of Chinese vessels that we detected during the supply operation was 16 maritime militia vessels that were physically monitored, 12 Chinese militia vessels, five China Coast Guard vessels, and five People’s Liberation Army [vessels],” PCG spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a media briefing.

“In total, we can say that there were a total of 38 Chinese vessels that were present within the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal during this particular resupply operation,” he added.

Tarriela said that not all 38 Chinese vessels were involved in the blocking operations against the PCG vessels.

“Based on the presentation that we gave, there were only six CMMVs (Chinese maritime militia vessels) that actively participated in the blocking operations, and there were five CCG vessels,” he said.

China has consistently tried to block and harass resupply ships going to Ayungin Shoal.

Also over the weekend, Senator Christopher Go lashed back at CCG spokesperson Gan Yu for claiming that they acted lawfully and “made temporary special arrangements for the Philippines side to transport food and other daily necessities” to its troops in the BRP Sierra Madre.

“How can they speak of the rule of law while simultaneously violating international norms?” Go said.

He also deplored China for violating the sovereign rights of other nations by putting Filipinos’ lives at risk with their bullying tactics.

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