MANILA— The Department of National Defense (DND) and the country's Armed Forces on Friday aired their concerns after 2 Chinese missile craft chased down a Filipino vessel in Philippine waters, where an ABS-CBN News team was aboard.
In two separate statements, the department and the military said they are currently conducting a probe on the incident to "validate" the facts.
The Filipino civilian vessel was traveling across various reefs and shoals in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea, close to the mainland of Palawan to see where Filipino fisherfolk have moved their livelihood.
GPS coordinates indicate that the Filipino vessel was only 90 nautical miles from mainland Palawan following a straight path home when the missile boats were chasing it down.
"Through the AFP’s Western Command, we are conducting investigation and verifications to establish what transpired," the statement read, noting that they are gathering photos and raw footage to "help establish the circumstance and document the incident."
"The AFP is concerned with the safety and well-being of our Kababayans that we have been forthright and transparent in our reporting about the situation in our EEZ," it added.
The military also pointed out that they have "accommodated" members of the media through its water and air assets for their coverage "so they can be protected while in the practice of their profession."
The development came as calls mounted from the government and the international community for China, Asia's largest economy, to withdraw its maritime militia vessels still moored in the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.
At least 40 Chinese boats remained in the area as of March 29, according to a Philippine government task force.
The DND described the incident as "concerning" due to the fact that unarmed civilians were chased down by Chinese missile craft in the country's territory.
"We are concerned for the safety of anyone — unarmed civilians — at sea. As such, we view the report with concern," Defense Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.
Andolong added that the results of AFP Western Command's probe on the incident would be used to "coordinate any proper action" through The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).
The details will also be used for "engagement" among their agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other relevant government agencies.
The same agency on Thursday night said it is in "continued talks" with the United States, the country's long-time ally, on the matter of mutual defense.
His comments also came after the United States reminded China of Washington's treaty obligations to the Philippines in the event of an attack in the waters.
Beijing often invokes the so-called nine-dash line to justify its apparent historic rights over most of the South China Sea, and it has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared this assertion to be without basis.
— With a report from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse