November 1, 2023
MANILA – National Security Adviser Eduardo Año on Tuesday said China was “creating unnecessary tensions” with the Philippines and was “overhyping” a recent incident where a Philippine Navy ship entered the waters of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“Under international law, the Philippines has every right to patrol the length and breadth of the West Philippine Sea, which necessarily includes Bajo de Masinloc, which is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” he said in a statement, using the shoal’s name in ancient maps.
Año was reacting to China’s accusation that the Philippine Navy corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) “illegally entered” the waters near Panatag Shoal, a small ring of reefs located within the country’s EEZ that has been controlled by China since a tense standoff in 2012.
“It did not illegally enter any space under Chinese sovereignty because Bajo de Masinloc is part of the Philippine archipelago and EEZ. Chinese vessels, as usual, conducted shadowing on the movement of PS-39,” he said.
“China is again overhyping this incident and creating unnecessary tensions between our two nations. Nonetheless, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PCG (Philippine Coast Guard) will not be deterred by the aggressive and illegal activities of PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy)/China Coast Guard/Militia in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
According to the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command, the BRP Conrado Yap entered the shoal’s vicinity on Tuesday “without the approval of the Chinese government.” Chinese air and naval assets were deployed to monitor and block the vessel, it said.
The Philippines’ action “seriously violated China’s sovereignty and international law and basic norms governing international relations and is highly likely to cause misunderstanding and miscalculation,” according to the Chinese military.
The AFP likewise denied that such a blocking incident took place.
“An illegal occupant cannot prevent the legitimate owner from entering his own house and backyard,” said Col. Medel Aguilar, the AFP spokesperson.
Last month, the AFP also dismissed China’s claims that it had driven away a Philippine Navy ship in Panatag Shoal as mere “propaganda.”
In September, upon the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the PCG cut a floating barrier installed by Beijing at the shoal’s entrance meant to block Filipino fishermen.
The 2016 arbitral ruling, handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, classified the shoal as a traditional fishing ground that should be shared with neighboring countries such as China and Vietnam.
But Beijing, which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, rejected the ruling.
Panatag Shoal is about 222 km (120 nautical miles) from the Luzon landmass, while it is about 1,100 km (594 nautical miles) from Hainan, China’s southernmost province.
Tensions have been high between the two countries in recent months over the West Philippine Sea.
Last month, the ships of both countries were involved in two collisions near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela has also warned against “pro-China narratives” supposedly spread by some groups to undermine the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea.
One narrative claims that speaking up against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea would lead the country into war.
“Exposing China’s aggression is not inciting war. By keeping our political leaders and countrymen aware of China’s violations of international law, we are safeguarding our country from political manipulation and disinformation,” he said on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).
“Also, by calling out China’s bad behavior at sea, we highlight which party is really responsible for raising tensions and increasing the likelihood of a kinetic conflict,” he pointed out.
Another argument spread by these groups was that the country’s efforts for transparency were solely influenced by the United States, China’s main strategic rival.
“Our transparency efforts are driven by our own national interest — the protection of the Philippines’ maritime rights. The Philippine Coast Guard and other government agencies are utilizing their own resources to document and monitor Beijing’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea,” Tarriela said.
Part of the efforts on transparency, he added, included embedding journalists “to ensure accurate and unbiased reporting of the events they witness.”
Tarriela said these groups were also accusing those critical of China as anti-Filipino and pro-US, which “aligns with China’s narrative that the South China Sea is solely a US-China issue, disregarding the agency of claimant states and the importance of defending our maritime rights based on international law.”
“Experts and government officials who are critical of China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea are driven by their dedication to the Philippines. Their arguments are rooted in international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Philippine Constitution,” he said.
“Instead of offering solutions that prioritize Philippine national interests, they resort to labeling patriotic Filipinos as pro-US in an attempt to discredit them,” Tarriela noted.