POSTSCRIPT / April 4, 2024 / Thursday



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‘Slow but sure’ BBM reaction
to Chinese attacks at Ayungin

PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos has unleashed legal verbiage in response to the savage March 23 Chinese water-cannon attack on a Philippine boat delivering supplies to troops guarding the RPS Sierra Madre derelict at Ayungin shoal off Palawan.

Chinese Coast Guard Blasts Philippine Boats with water cannons. Video Credit: The Wall Street Journal News

Marcos’ paper response to the attack may have been slow, timid and not in proportion to the physical and psychological impact of the aggressive, brutal and unprovoked attack by the China Coast Guard on Filipinos at sea, but it seems like so far it has worked — even on local critics who have been unusually quiet.

Etched in the minds of Filipinos who had watched videos of the lopsided attack was the comparatively puny Philippine resupply boat Unaizah May 4 (UM4) staggering under the fierce CCG cannon blasts.

If President Marcos saw the videos gone viral, he could not have missed hearing the Filipino crew pleading “Tama na!” (“Stop it!”) with their Chinese tormentors. Having seen and heard them, what did the Commander-in-Chief do?

On March 26, or three long days after the CCG attack, Malacañang published Marcos’ reaction embodied in a 2,145-word Executive Order No. 57 (s. 2024) “to comprehensively tackle” the issues affecting “the country’s security, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over its extensive maritime zones”.

Sounding like a pleading in an international tribunal, EO 57 said: “Despite efforts to promote stability and security in our maritime domain, the Philippines continues to confront a range of serious challenges that threaten not only the country’s territorial integrity, but also the peaceful existence of Filipinos, including their fundamental right to live in peace and freedom, free from fear of violence and threat.”

To the home crowd shocked by the cruelty of the CCG trespassers, Marcos vowed to move against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks”, which many Filipinos fear will continue whether Marcos barks at the intruders or not.

Ayungin shoal, known internationally as Second Thomas and marked as Rén’ài Jiāo on Chinese maps, is a submerged feature in the Spratlys group some 105 nautical miles west of Palawan (versus 600 NM from Hainan island, the nearest land mass of China).

Beijing claims sovereignty rights over at least 88 percent of South China Sea, a vital water way where 60 percent of global maritime trade pass. China has even drawn its own arbitrary “9-dash-line” on the sea delineating the extensive area teeming with marine and mineral resources that it claims.

International law recognizes Ayungin, among many other low-tide protrusions, as part of the Philippines’ EEZ. By its having taken on a military character with the permanent presence there of RPS Sierra Madre, the shoal has become verboten to Chinese coast guard and militia boats.

Old watchdog with new collar

WHILE Marcos promised to act against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks”, he did not take any firm and specific counter-measures except to reorganize the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) and rename it as the National Maritime Council.

The old watchdog Council sporting a new collar was touted as “the central body in charge of formulating policies and strategies to ensure a coordinated and effective framework for the nation’s maritime security and domain awareness.”

Chaired by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, the Council’s members include the top brass of the National Security Council and of the departments of National Defense, Agriculture, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interior and Local Government, Justice, Transportation, as well as the Solicitor General and the chief of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Continuing with EO 57, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea was attached to the Council and advertised as “responsible for orchestrating, synchronizing, and operationalizing the employment of the capabilities of different government agencies to achieve ‘unified action’ in the WPS.”

In the rechristening spree, the NCWC Secretariat was renamed Presidential Office for Maritime Concerns. It is reportedly tasked to “provide consultative, research, administrative and technical services to the Council”.

If the bureaucratic game of musical chairs and the extra layering of officials would impede quick reaction to “critical and urgent” matters at sea, Malacañang said the Presidential Assistant for Maritime Concerns may go directly to the Chief. (We are still peering through the dust kicked up in the Palace rigodon to find out who this all-special Presidential Assistant is.)

Marcos also changed the name of the National Coast Watch Center to National Maritime Center, which the Palace said will gather and disseminate information on the maritime security and domain awareness, and coordinate marine surveillance. Despite the name change, the Center reportedly will remain under the Philippine Coast Guard.

PNA reports on details of attack

FOOTNOTES: If the President is interested, the Philippine News Agency reported these details on the CCG attack of March 23:

The armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) said CCG vessel 21551 initially performed a dangerous maneuver of “crossing the bow” against Unaizah May 4 (UM4) at 6:08 a.m.

At about 7:09 a.m., the CCG made a “reverse blocking maneuver” that caused a near-collision as the resupply boat was approaching Ayungin shoal.

The CCG then began blasting water cannons at UM4 at 7:59 a.m., deliberately targeting and hitting the supply boat.

The UM4 boat was subjected to direct water cannoning by two CCG vessels at 8:38 a.m. It sustained heavy damage at around 08:52 due to the continued blasting of water cannons.

A video of the incident, posted by the AFP on X (Twitter), showed that almost half of UM4’s roof decking was torn off by the impact of the water blasts.

Meanwhile, another CCG and two Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels also blocked the BRP Cabra (MRRV 4409), one of the designated escort vessels.

At about 7:20 a.m., PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, said BRP Cabra was “impeded and encircled” by CCG vessel 21551, along with the CMM vessels bearing bow numbers 0036 and 00314.

MRRV 4409 has been isolated from the resupply boat due to the irresponsible and provocative behavior of the Chinese maritime forces, who have disregarded the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, he said.

At 9:53 a.m., BRP Cabra eventually maneuvered and reached UM4 to provide assistance to the resupply boat.

By 11:09 a.m., a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) managed to ferry six Philippine Navy soldiers and essential cargoes from UM4 and BRP Cabra.

Unaizah May 4 was unable to continue its course while a CMM vessel assisted by RHIBs also installed floating barriers to prevent further entry to the shoal.

China’s latest attack in Ayungin shoal followed the March 5 harassment, using water cannon against the same resupply boat.

The vessel also sustained damage and the crewmembers were injured, compelling it to return to mainland Palawan escorted by the BRP Sindangan.

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