MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday filed a diplomatic protest over China's use of a military-grade laser light against a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement Tuesday, the DFA said it released the protest to the Chinese Embassy in Manila, condemning the Feb. 6 "shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges" by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel on the PCG's BRP Malapascua.
The DFA said the actions of Chinese vessel CCG 5205 was a "threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state, and are infringements of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone."
“The Philippines has the prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China does not have law enforcement rights or powers in and around Ayungin Shoal or any part of the Philippine EEZ,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said.
Ayungin Shoal, known internationally as Second Thomas Shoal and in China as Ren'ai Jiao, is within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, as provided for by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Manila's sovereign rights over the said feature was affirmed by the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration decision.
Daza described the laser use incident as "disturbing and disappointing," noting that it came just a month after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping "agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation."
The PCG earlier reported that BRP Malapascua was supporting a regular rotation and resupply mission for the Philippine Navy when a CCG vessel interfered with the mission and pointed a laser light at the vessel.
The light temporarily blinded BRP Malapascua's crew.
The Philippines has grounded BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to assert its sovereignty in the area following China's occupation of the Mischief Reef, another feature inside the Philippines' EEZ.
The Chinese vessel also approached the Philippine vessel at a "close distance" and issued "illegal radio challenges" for it to leave the area.
"We call on China to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS and the 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration and direct its vessels to cease and desist from its aggressive activities against Philippine vessels," Daza said.
The Chinese government had blamed the Philippines for the incident, with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin claiming that the PCG vessel entered Ayungin Shoal "without permission."
United States Department of State spokesperson Ned Price criticized China's use of laser lights, saying it was "provocative and unsafe."
"The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People's Republic of China Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship," Price said.
There has been a series of maritime incidents between the Philippines and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored the arbitration award that declared its claims as having no legal basis.
Days before the latest incident, the US and the Philippines agreed to resume joint patrols in the sea, and struck a deal to give US troops access to another four military bases in the Southeast Asian country.
According to DFA data, the department has filed 203 notes verbales recently, with 195 of them lodged in 2022 and eight this year.
Daza said the tally included Tuesday's diplomatic protest, which she said was the 75th since Marcos assumed the presidency last June.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News