Lawmaker complains of Chinese harassment of Navy boat in disputed waters

The BRP Sierra Madre, which stands as a bulwark against expansionism in the South China Sea. File photo.

A lawmaker has claimed that a helicopter harassed and endangered a Philippine Navy boat in the South China Sea.

Speaking during a Congressional briefing on recent developments in the disputed waters today (Wednesday, May 30) Congressman Gary Alejano said the alleged harassment in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, happened on May 11.

The Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, however, refrained from calling it “harassment”, instead referring to it as an “incident”. Nonetheless, he said the Philippines had filed a diplomatic protest.

Representative Alejano, himself a former Marine, said “the Armed Forces of the Philippines had lodged a complaint with the Department of Foreign Affairs” regarding the incident.

He said the Coast Guard and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) “challenged and harassed” the Philippine Navy.

He described how a group of Marines was conducting “a reprovisioning mission for our troops” at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Rep. Alejano said: “When the Philippine Navy ship launched a rubber boat to resupply BRP Sierra Madre, a chopper of PLAN hovered in a close and dangerous distance. The PLAN chopper was so close that seawater splash entered the rubber boat.” 

He added that “the said forces were aboard Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) with bow number 3368 and PLAN ship with bow number 549”.

“Before, it was only CCG that was challenging and harassing our troops. Now, the CCG was already accompanied by the PLAN. This is a clear threat to our security forces by no less than the Coast Guard and Navy which obviously requires condemnation from our end,” he said.

Ayungin Shoal is a tiny group of islets and reefs about 105 miles northwest of Palawan. Here, a handful of Marines live on a grounded World War II ship serve as a bulwark against China’s expansionism. Although Beijing claims the shoal, it is well within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone and is also part of the continental shelf.

In his statement about the harassment issue, Alejano criticised Cayetano for apparently failing to file a diplomatic protest with Beijing.

“Secretary Cayetano should not feign ignorance and act clueless as if his office is not receiving pertinent information,” he said.

As we reported yesterday, Cayetano signalled what appeared to be a tougher new policy on the South China Sea, saying that President Duterte would be prepared to declare war on China if interfered with the beached ship.