MANILA — Security and defense analysts on Saturday urged the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to continue reporting maritime incidents in the West Philippine Sea, as this could help pressure China stop harassment of Filipino sailors.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, earlier said there were some unreported maritime incidents in the area.
One of those incidents include a laser-flashing incident in June 2022, in what can be considered the first time China used it against members of the PCG.
PCG personnel experienced temporary blindness and skin itchiness, according to Tarriela.
"As I kept saying before, China's gray-zone tactics, activities, all these assertive actions that are just below the use of force or aggressive, has been working because they had been hidden," said maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
"Precisely the reason why they kept doing it [China] was the fact, we never let the world know what was going on... As they see, this only allowed China to keep on doing things much worse, in a way," he said.
Dr. Chester Cabalza, International Development and Security Cooperation founding president, said hiding these maritime incidents could be attributed to the Manila's warm relationship with Beijing during the previous administration.
He said maritime incidents must be disclosed as much as possible.
"Para ma-pressure ang kabilang party at the same time, malaman ng publiko na hindi lang minsan ito ginawa kundi puwedeng ulit-ulitin pa nilang gawin ito," Cabalza told ABS-CBN News in a phone call.
"If hindi nila ire-release ito at isu-submit sa publiko, China will do the same and even do it in a harsh way," he added.
Manila, Cabalza pointed out, may have started being assertive after the incidents in the West Philippine Sea became "too much" on their end.
"We have diplomatic ties with China. And as much as possible, we want to maintain peace and order in the region. But if frequently pushed... Puno na ng salop ang ating Philippine Coast Guard," he said.
Batongbacal noted that there might be previous incidents that could be "much more dense," which was why it was important to report these from now on.
"It is probably one of the ways we can push back against them given that they are doing all that they can to push the Philippines out of the West Philippine Sea," he said.
"Now, every action that they make is made known to the world, I hope they would think twice in doing these things again and again," he added.
'PUSHING PH TO THE LIMITS'
The lingering presence of Chinese vessels in Ayungin (Second Thomas) and Esconda (Sabina) shoals, Cabalza said, could be attributed to its proximity to the country's claimed features in the West Philippine Sea.
The shoals are also rich in natural resources and gas deposits, he said. If they claimed this territory, it would be hard for the Philippines to reclaim it or for Filipinos to fish there, he said.
"Very strategic 'yan sa kanilang monitoring. Kung titingnan natin, it is part of the EEZ of the Philippines. Kapag na-control [nila ang shoals], makakalapit na sila sa ibang mga features in the Philippines.
"They are pushing us to our limits... Very tactical ang kanilang ginawa dahil parang agawan-base ito, kapag naagaw nila 'yun, mahirap ulit makuha ito," he said.
Batongbacal described Ayungin Shoal as a "pressure point" for China. It is located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan but is also near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea occupied by China.
China's presence there and their continued aggression were meant to push the Philippines out of those areas "voluntarily."
"They will be there, ready to take advantage, ready to take us out of the Ayungin Shoal," he said.
Sabina Shoal, a low-tide elevation near Reed Bank, also a strategic point.
"Any ships that are stationed in Sabina Shoal can be easily moved to block... as well as interfere the movement of Philippine ships to Pag-asa Island," he said.
"It is likely so they can use it as a kind of staging ground by having their ships stay there... so they can move immediately to block any activity of the Philippines going to the Pag-asa Island group," he noted.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
Beijing has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
A total of 76 note verbales and diplomatic protests against China have been filed under President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the foreign affairs department said.