Chinese coast guard now taunting Philippines in sandbars

Philippine coast guard personnel in a motorized boat survey the seashores near Thitu island with three Chinese vessels in the background in the disputed South China Sea.
FILE PHOTO: Philippine coast guard personnel survey the seashores near Thitu island with Chinese-claimed Subi reef (background) during a visit by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to Thitu island in Spratlys on April 21, 2017. A group of Filipino fishermen has accused China's coast guard of shooting at their vessel in disputed South China waters, Philippine authorities said April 21. (Photo: TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)

History repeats itself as a vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) attempted to drive off two patrol boats of the Philippine Navy in the area between Pag-asa and Zamora Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on June 27. But the Navy stood its ground, telling the former to not interfere.

“Attention, Philippine personnel. This is China Coast Guard 5201. Your behavior not only violated China’s sovereignty, safety and relevant rights but also … of the relations between China and the Philippines. Please leave at once,” the ship said. A Chinese helicopter was also doing rounds in the area.

To which the Navy replied, “We are currently conducting maritime operations within the territorial waters of Pag-asa, Philippines. Please do not interfere.” One of the two vessels was anchored in Cay 1 at the time – which is the nearest sandbar from Pag-asa island. Sandbars are naturally-forming ridges of sand or sediment.

The Chinese did the same back in 2014, when they urged the Philippines to retract the BRP Sierra Madre, a detachment of the Philippine Marines, from Ayungin Shoal.

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal explained the vitality of the sandbars under Philippine jurisdiction – Filipino fisherfolk are safe to anchor their vessels 11 to 14 km from Pag-asa. Should that no longer be the case, it will drastically decrease to around 3.7 km.

“The sandbars are closer to fishing grounds and served as resting and safe anchorage places for fishermen based on Pag-asa,” Batongbacal said. “Take those areas out of reach and we are basically limited to around two nautical miles (3.7 km).”

Mark Ernest Famatigan is a news writer who focuses on Philippine politics. He is an advocate for press freedom and regularly follows developments in the Philippine economy. The views expressed are his own.

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