IN accordance with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s directive, Philippine Coast Guard Admiral Artemio Abu ordered the deployment of two 44-meter PCG vessels to carry out a seven-day maritime patrol in the West Philippine Sea.
From April 18 to 24, 2023, BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4402) and BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4403) patrolled the waters off Sabina Shoal, Iroquis Reef, Lawak, Patag, Likas, Parola, Pag-asa, Tizzard Bank, Julian Felipe Reef, and Ayungin Shoal.
Throughout the mission, the PCG vessels identified over 100 alleged Chinese Maritime Militia vessels, a People’s Liberation Army Navy corvette class and two China Coast Guard vessels.
Eighteen Chinese maritime militia vessels were detected near Sabina Shoal. Despite the numerous radio challenges by the two PCG vessels, the CMM did not respond or comply with the order to leave the area immediately.
Meanwhile, four additional CMM vessels, which appeared to be engaged in fishing activities, were successfully driven away by the PCG vessels from the territorial sea of Pag-asa, at a distance of four nautical miles.
Notably, seventeen groups of CMM were observed in the vicinity of Julian Felipe Reef, with an estimated total count exceeding 100 vessels.
In response, the PCG vessels deployed their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) to disperse the large CMM gathering.
However, no CMM vessels reacted or made any attempts to vacate the area.
On April 21, 2023, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessel with bow number 549 crossed paths with the PCG vessels.
The confrontation took place at a distance of 7 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island.
The encounter began when the Chinese gray ship challenged the presence of the PCG vessels over the radio and directed them to leave the area. The Chinese navy issued a warning to the PCG, suggesting that failure to comply might “cause problem.”
Despite this, the PCG vessels did not back down and responded by asserting their rights to carry out operations within the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island.
They further asked the Chinese navy to leave the area immediately instead.
On the morning of April 23, 2023, two Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels intercepted the PCG vessels that were in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal.
CCG vessel 5201 and 4202 exhibited aggressive tactics towards BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo, respectively. CCG vessel 5201 was reported to have carried out dangerous maneuvers near BRP Malapascua, maintaining a perilous distance of only 50 yards.
This close proximity posed a significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew. Meanwhile, the CCG vessel 4202 persistently followed BRP Malabrigo at a distance of 700 yards, closely monitoring its movements.
The PCG has already submitted a report to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS), highlighting the presence of a Chinese warship, the continued appearance of alleged CMM vessels within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as the aggressive actions of the CCG against PCG vessels.
The PCG is dedicated, along with the Western Command (WESCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Area Task Force – West (ATF-WEST), to diligently and tirelessly work together to protect the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights in its EEZ, its sovereignty, territory, and continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea.
Catherine R. Cueto