MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs on Saturday said it would raise with China the issue of its missile boats chasing off a Filipino boat carrying a television crew in the West Philippine Sea once the incident has been verified by Philippine authorities.
ABS-CBN News’ Chiara Zambrano on Wednesday reported that she and her crew were supposed to visit Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippine Navy maintains its presence through BRP Sierra Madre, but decided to head back to Palawan after the Chinese coast guard radioed in to ask them what they were doing in the area.
Despite this, Zambrano said China Coast Guard ship 5101 gave chase for an hour and was later replaced by two new-generation stealth missile fast attack crafts of the Chinese navy.
The Department of National Defense on Friday said it ordered an investigation into the incident which took place about 90 nautical miles from mainland Palawan, well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
DFA in its statement said that if the report is “proven to be true,” it would “raise the matter with the Chinese government.”
Footage of the incident described has already been aired by ABS-CBN but DFA Executive Director for Strategic Communications Ivy Banzon-Abalos said “reasonable verification with expert authorities is necessary.”
While it is thankful that the Filipino crew and vessel are safe, the DFA in its statement reminded the public “to coordinate with Philippine authorities when planning a visit to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.”
Similarly, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in a statement posted Friday said: “While we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job.”
The military also expressed concern over the incident and said it would be conducting its own probe through its Western Command.
NUJP: Why blame journalists for being harassed?
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, while welcoming the military’s concern, chided insinuations that the dangerous encounter was caused by the competitive spirit of the reporters on board the vessel.
“It is almost like the military is asking the Filipino journalists ‘what were you doing there’ even when the better question might be aimed at the AFP: What were you not doing there?” NUJP said.
“An even more important question is what the Chinese military was doing in our waters and how the Duterte administration plans to address this incident.”
STATEMENT | It is almost like the military is asking the Filipino journalists “what were you doing there?” even when the better question might be aimed at the AFP: What were you not doing there? pic.twitter.com/83Y2WALP3l
— NUJP (@nujp) April 9, 2021
The University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication in its own statement strongly condemned the actions of China’s navy and coast guard and called on the DFA to file a diplomatic protest over the incident.
“The reporters were lawfully performing their duties as journalists in the coverage of the events. Whether or not China was aware of the ABS-CBN crew on coverage, the unprovoked threat of the use of force against an unarmed civilian vessel is prohibited under the United Nations Charter and customary international law.”
The college’s faculty also called on “all news media organizations worldwide to provide full, contextualized coverage of the massive military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.”
Tension mounting over West Philippine Sea
The Philippines is currently filing a diplomatic protest for every day that some 44 Chinese militia ships continue to linger within the vicinity of the Julian Felipe Reef.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier this week again called on China to pull out its vessels.
Another 115 Chinese militia ships have been spotted in Chigua (Kennan), 45 in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island and 50 others dispersed in Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs, as of March 29.
China claims the vessels are fishing boats taking shelter from adverse weather but the DND and the DFA have repeatedly disputed this.
— with reports from Patricia Lourdes Viray
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