MANILA — China's latest aggressive action towards the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea is a "case of international gaslighting," a senator said Friday.
A Chinese coast guard ship cut off a Philippine patrol vessel carrying journalists in Ayungin Shoal on Sunday, causing a near-collision.
An AFP report said the BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo had broadcast their intention to sail into Second Thomas Shoal to conduct a "site survey" and asked the Chinese vessels to "stay clear from our passage".
But the Chinese coast guard responded over the radio that the Philippine boats were illegally sailing in China's territorial waters, and told them to leave.
"Classic case of international gaslighting but Beijing's continued silence and denial about the Hague ruling, pinapakita niyan na 'yan talaga 'yung Achilles heel niya, 'yan ang weakest link niya," Sen. Risa Hontiveros told ANC's "Headstart".
For the senator, Beijing's repeated harassment of Philippines vessels shows their complete disrespect for Manila's sovereignty.
"This is just the latest in a continuous and unbroken and apparently unrepentant string of incidents na hindi nila puwedeng sasabihin na aksidente," Hontiveros said.
"May pananadya na talaga dito."
"Di niya kayang respetuhin 'yung ating national interest and always, we Filipinos are the last line of defense for the Philippines," she added.
Hontiveros called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to file another diplomatic protest against China.
"I hope the executive is not waiting for an even worst incident in order to finally put its foot down and tell China, tell Beijing off to cease and desist in these kinds of actions and incidents," the senator said.
'DAVID AND GOLIATH'
The BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo were shadowed by Chinese navy and coast guard ships, and ordered to leave the waters several times during the 6-day journey.
"We would have collided on the bow had I not cut the engine and thrown it in reverse," Malapascua commanding officer Rodel Hernandez told reporters of Sunday's close call, describing it as an encounter between "David and Goliath".
The incident happened after the Philippine coast guard boats approached Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal), where Philippine marines are stationed in a run-down navy ship grounded to assert Manila's territorial claim in the waters.
Hernandez said Chinese boats routinely blocked his and other Philippine coast guard ships during their patrols near the shoal.
However, Sunday was the "closest" he had seen vessels from the rival fleets come to a collision.
The incident came just a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang for talks in Manila aimed at defusing tensions in the contested waterway.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
To back Beijing's claim, hundreds of Chinese coast guard and other vessels patrol the waters, swarming reefs and harassing and attacking fishing and other boats.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse