Explanation on China water cannon attack sought

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MANILA -- The Philippine government is not taking lightly the reported water cannon attack made by the Chinese Coast Guard against Filipino fishermen at the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc).

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), it has already summoned the Chargé d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Manila to strongly protest the January 27 incident in the hotly-contested waters.

"The Department strongly protests the acts of harassment and the manner by which these were committed by China to forcefully drive away Philippine fishing vessels from Bajo de Masinloc," said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.

Citing reports sent to the DFA, Hernandez noted that two Filipino fishing boats had encountered harassment by a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with Bow Number 3063 last January 27 at the Bajo de Masinloc.

The CCG vessel supposedly continuously blew its horn and, afterwards, doused the fishing vessels with water cannons for several minutes.

Aside from the "water cannon" incident, Hernandez said that they were also informed of nine other cases of harassments of Filipino fishermen committed by Chinese civilian maritime law enforcement agency (CMLEA) vessels last year.

These include cases, wherein Philippine fishing vessels were driven away from the area despite the inclement weather conditions.

"The Department also vehemently protests the acts of China when its law enforcement vessels drove away Philippine fishing vessels seeking shelter in the Philippines' Bajo de Masinloc during inclement weather," said Hernandez.

The DFA said that such actions are unwarranted as Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippines and over which the country exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

Philippine fishing vessels have been routinely, continuously, and peacefully and sustainably fishing in Bajo de Masinloc, added the DFA.

For its part, the Chinese Embassy in Manila neither denied nor confirmed the "water cannon" incident.

Instead, the Chinese embassy immediately rejected the protests made by the Philippine government.

"The Chinese side does not accept the so-called 'protest' by the Philippine side," said Chinese Embassy Spokesman Hua Zhang in a statement.

China also insisted that it has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters, such as the Huangyan Island.

Because of this, the embassy said Chinese government vessels are only expected to conduct regular patrols within China's jurisdiction.

It then urged the Philippines anew to just focus on resolving their territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

"We urge the Philippine side to work with the Chinese side to resolve differences through bilateral consultations and negotiations," said Zhang.

To note, the Philippine government had already initiated arbitration proceedings before the United Nations (UN) against China against its claim of "indisputable sovereignty" in the South China Sea, including those being claimed by other countries.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have partial claims in the territory, which is being claimed in whole by China.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced Tuesday that the monitoring of the area of Scarborough shoal has been transferred from the Northern Luzon Command to the Western Command.

In a media briefing, AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the document that will mandate the transfer of the monitoring of the Scarborough shoal was signed by the officials last week to enhance the external defense capability in the area.

"The unity of effort and unity of command will be combined so that our external defense efforts will just be under one commander and that is the western command commander," he said.

Zagala said the Western command has higher capability of protecting the territory even if the said area was way far from their original assignment.

"The western command has the necessary assets that can address territorial defense and monitoring, they have the necessary aircraft that can fly to all these areas for the purpose of monitoring and reporting to higher government office," he said.

Two new ships of the AFP, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon
Alcaraz was under the custody of western command patrolling the West Philippine Sea.

Zagala further said the efforts to enhance the external defense is that it would be under one commander so if there is a need for the vessels to be propositioned anywhere in the Philippines, the jurisdiction will be from a single commander, the commander of the western command.

Zagala said that although the use of water canon was an aggressive act from the Chinese, it does not merit a military response to avoid war.

"Of course we wish to de-escalate the situation there, we are using rules based international tribunal arbitration and we are a peace loving country. Our policy is to avoid confrontation to support this, the peaceful solution of the problems we're having in the region so our path is towards that same direction, that is why armed confrontation should be avoided," he said. (HDT/Third Anne Peralta/Sunnex)

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