MANILA (UPDATE) — An official of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Saturday countered China's claim that a Philippine boat's "provocative action" led to its near-collision with a Chinese coast guard ship in the West Philippine Sea.
"The routine, seven-day maritime patrol carried out by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the West Philippine Sea from April 18 to 24 was non-provocative," Commodore Jay Tristan Tarriela, PCG spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea, said on his personal Twitter account.
He added that the activity "did not undermine the interests of other states."
In Sunday's incident, 2 Philippine coast guard boats approached Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as Ren'ai Jiao.
As one boat, the BRP Malapascua, neared the shoal, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel more than twice its size sailed into its path.
Agence France-Presse journalists watched the incident from another Philippine coast guard boat, which was less than a kilometer away.
The Malapascua's commanding officer said the Chinese ship came within 45 meters of his boat and only his quick actions avoided the steel-hulled vessels crashing into each other.
Asked about the incident on Friday at a regular press briefing, the Chinese foreign ministry said the Philippine boats had "intruded" without China's permission.
"It was a premeditated and provocative action for the Philippine vessel to barge into the waters of Ren'ai Jiao with journalists on board, the aim was to deliberately find fault and take the opportunity to hype up the incident," spokeswoman Mao Ning claimed.
But Tarriela said the PCG was "under no obligation to request permission from other nations" when patrolling the waters near Ayungin Shoal, saying the area is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"Throughout their maritime patrol operations, PCG captains consistently follow the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs)," he said
With the near-collision incident Commodore Tarriela described as a "perilous maneuver" by China, he said Beijing breached the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and violated the 1972 COLREGs.
"The People's Republic of China is a signatory to both conventions," he noted.
Maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said China has no right to accuse the Philippines of "provocation."
"They have no right to say that we are the ones provoking anything because we are only exercising our jurisdiction in our own waters. China is the one always provoking the Philippines by always setting up these dangerous situations through these dangerous maneuvers... Pinapakita nito yung mga inconsistencies ng pakikitungo ng Tsina sa atin," he said.
For former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos, the "channels for dialogs and communications should always be open."
"Kailangan lang natin ng resoluteness, fortitude at sabihin natin at pangatawanan natin yung talagang dapat ay atin... The channels for dialogs and communications should always be open," she said.
Some lawmakers also expressed alarm over China's aggression.
"Inaasahan ko na ang Department of Foreign Affairs ay maghahain kaagad ng diplomatic protest. Kasabay nito, dapat kundenahin ng Malacañang ang walang tigil na pananakot, pagpapahirap, at pagbabanta ng Tsina... Ano pa ang hinihintay ng Palasyo? Na may Pilipinong tuluyang mamatay?" Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.
"We reiterate that we need to de-escalate the tension and demilitarize the West Philippine Sea (WPS) instead of further heightening it. Joint patrols and international pressure are the peaceful yet assertive ways to defend our territory, military agreements will just exacerbate the current situation," ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratlys, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.
— with a report from Agence France-Presse