By Jojo Riñoza and Marielle Lucenio
The Philippine Coast Guard said Monday it had challenged a Chinese warship that entered the country’s territorial waters in the South China Sea last week but eventually sailed away.
The BRP Cabra was patrolling near Marie Louis Bank – about 147 nautical miles (87 km) off the coast of El Nido town in Palawan province – when it spotted the Chinese ship on July 13, the Coast Guard said.
The incident occurred a day after the fifth anniversary of a landmark international arbitral ruling that affirmed Manila’s rights to its territories in the South China Sea and declared Beijing’s claims over most of the contested waterway as baseless.
The “navy warship had a flag of the People’s Republic of China and was marked by Chinese characters,” Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said in a statement.
“BRP Cabra calmly raised a radio challenge while monitoring the movement of the said ship using radar,” Balilo said.
“The PCG vessel moved closer to see more clearly the activity of the Chinese Navy warship in our waters,” he said, using an acronym for the Philippine Coast Guard.
The Chinese warship, bow number 189, maintained silence, forcing the Philippine Coast Guard ship to use a Long-Range Acoustic Device to broadcast audible notifications and warnings.
It broke its silence and sent a radio message after the Philippine Coast Guard ship continued its challenge.
“Philippine Coast Guard 4409, this is Chinese Navy warship 189. Please keep two nautical miles distance from me,” the local coast guard quoted the message as saying.
Only then did the Chinese ship turn around to leave Marie Louise Bank, Balilo said, adding that the BRP Cabra followed to ensure that the foreign ship left the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine Coast Guard said the crew strictly followed the manual on enforcing rules within the EEZ.
“This is to ensure that we follow a rules-based and peaceful approach in guarding our democracy and that the rights of the Philippines to protect its sovereignty are protected,” Balilo said.
Officials in Manila did not immediately respond when BenarNews contacted them to ask if this was the first incident involving a Chinese marked warship since a dispute over Chinese ships in the Philippine EEZ began in March, or why they waited nearly a week to release details about the incident at sea.
Last month, BRP Cabra chased away five Chinese and two Vietnamese ships that had been monitored in the country’s waters, according to the Coast Guard.
Backed by other ships on April 27, it chased away seven Chinese ships from Sabina Shoal, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said at the time. The shoal is 130 nautical miles (241 km) west of Puerto Princesa in Palawan province, within the EEZ.
Both the Philippines and China, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim in whole or parts of the sea region. Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the South China Sea dispute, but Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
While President Rodrigo Duterte has said that the July 2016 the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague clearly favored the Philippines, he has been reluctant to enforce it. Duterte has maintained that China is a friend who has been generous with its economic largesse and anti-COVID19 vaccines.
His foreign and defense secretaries have pointed out that friendly relations aside, the arbitral court ruling was set in stone and was part of international law.
The United States, Japan, Australia and other countries, meanwhile, have backed the Philippines, urging China to follow international norms and stop its expansionist moves in the sea region.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not reply to a BenarNews request for comment on Monday. Last week, Beijing’s foreign ministry dismissed the arbitration award as “nothing more than a piece of waste paper.”