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China, PH discuss near-collision, agree to SCS fishing rights talk

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Monday he has raised the near-collision of Philippine and Chinese coast guard ships in the West Philippine Sea with Chinese officials.

The Philippines has accused the Chinese coast guard of “dangerous maneuvers” when one of its ships sailed into the path of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel carrying journalists near Ayunging Shoal, causing a near-collision.

“You know, this is the kind of thing that we are hoping to avoid. But this time it was a little more dangerous, because they were close and they almost collided with us. And that will cause casualties on both sides, and that is exactly what we want to avoid,” he said.

The President also called for the final adoption of a Philippines-China “direct communication line.”

He said the Philippine side has already formed a team, but the Chinese have yet to do so.

While the overall priority is safeguarding maritime security, the President said China has agreed to sit down and talk about Filipinos’ fishing rights in the West Philippine Sea.

“So that’s what we have to do. That’s what we have to decide and they have agreed again to sit down. I’ve asked the Coast Guard and the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to put together perhaps a map of these fishing grounds that we consider to be part of the Philippines, and we’ll see what they say when we give them our proposal,” Marcos said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Both President Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier affirmed the establishment of a “direct communication mechanism” during the Filipino leader’s official state visit to Beijing in January.

Both leaders further agreed that “confidence-building measures would contribute to improving mutual trust.”

In a Twitter post, British Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils expressed concern over the near collision in the South China Sea.

“The UK is concerned by continued reports of dangerous conduct towards Filipino vessels in the South China Sea,” Beaufils said.

She added that the UK remains committed to international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez urged President Marcos to recall the country’s ambassador to Beijing as a show of protest and displeasure over the “David vs Goliath” near-collision of a Philippine Coast Guard ship with a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel.

“Aside from the usual filing of a diplomatic note, we should order our principal representative in China to return home. He should not go back to Beijing until we receive a response from the Chinese government apologizing for their harassment and bullying tactics in the West Philippine Sea and committing to rectify their misconduct,” he said.

The country’s ambassador to Beijing is Jaime Flor Cruz, a former journalist who covered China for many years for American news organizations.

Rodriguez said the Philippines has filed hundreds of protest notes with Beijing over China’s aggressive and bullying activities.

In 2022 alone, 193 protest notes were served on Beijing, including 65 by the Marcos administration, he said.

“All these protestations fell on deaf ears. That is why they continue to harass and bully our Coast Guard patrols and our fishermen, from the northern part of our country in Pangasinan and Zambales to the south in Palawan,” he added.

The Mindanao lawmaker also lauded the reaction of the United States to the recent near-collision incident, which happened in the Ayungin Shoal area, where a small contingent of Filipino soldiers is stationed in an old, rusting Navy ship.

“We welcome the unequivocal, clear commitment by the US government. The reiteration of US obligations under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is very reassuring,” he said.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Monday condemned the latest “act of harassment” from China.

In a statement released on Labor Day, the Transport Department said it viewed the act against the Philippines with “grave concern” citing that the PCG was exercising its rights to patrol its territory as granted by international law.

“The Department of Transportation (DOTr) views with grave concern the latest act of harassment against the Philippines in the Philippine exclusive economic zone forming part of the West Philippine Sea,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, PCG spokesperson on West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said in an interview that he supports the plan to conduct joint maritime patrols in the country’s waters with the United States after China’s latest actions.

Tarriela said that these aggressive tactics from China have become routine occurrences in the West Philippine Sea.

Tarriela also countered the statement from China that the Philippine vessel was the one instigating “provocative actions” that led to the near-miss with the Chinese ship.

“The routine, seven-day maritime patrol carried out by the [PCG] in the WPS from April 18-24 was non-provocative and did not undermine the interests of other states,” Tarriela said on his Twitter account.

“The PCG is under no obligation to request permission from other nations while patrolling the waters near Ayungin Shoal, as this area falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he added.

— Maricel Cruz and Charles Dantes

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