PCG admits lack of disclosure on China’s previous aggressions in WPS

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) admitted it was not able to “publicize” previous incidents in the West Philippine Sea, but has recently started exposing China’s aggressive actions in the disputed waters.

In a forum on Saturday, Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG Adviser of the Commandant for Maritime Security, said they hope the move would elicit a response from the East Asian giant regarding its intimidating behavior.

When asked when China became more aggressive according to the PCG’s tracking system, Tarriela responded: “As far as the incidents in the past weeks, we are able to publicize, but for the previous incidents that happened, I am not authorized to disclose.”

This year, the PCG reported that a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel aimed a military-grade laser at its ship BRP Malapascua while another drove away a Filipino fishing boat. It also recorded the continued swarming of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters.

Tarriela, who is also PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said the agency has released photos and videos to prove such claims.

In early February, PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo confirmed a report that a CCG vessel had monitored and tailed a Philippine Navy warship near Mischief Reef – a low-tide elevation located in the Spratly Islands.

But the PCG retracted its statement two days later, saying the incident was “unverified.”

In an interview on CNN Philippines’ The Source on Feb. 15, former National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos said she had advised the PCG to make public the CCG's aggressive actions.

Tarriela, in a separate interview on CNN Philippines’ Politics As Usual on the same day, also said the “only way” the country can respond to China’s “bullying behavior” is to “continuously expose” it.

“We should not allow ourselves to be silent and just be reliant on diplomatic protests,” he said. “We need to lead the narrative that the Chinese are doing this, and this is wrong and this against the international law and they are violating our sovereign rights in our own exclusive economic zone.”

‘Publicize’ over diplomatic protests?

During the forum, Tarriela chose to stay mum when pressed to compare the actions of the PCG during the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte and that of the current administration.

But he responded to questions related to Marcos’ visit to China last Jan. 3 to 5, where Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. agreed to solve “differences” over the maritime dispute through “peaceful means.” 

“I think the best way to put it is the difference ng mga nakaraang taong circumstances na nangyayari sa West Philippine Sea, at sa mga nakaraang linggo right after the visit of President Bongbong Marcos in China, is that all of the incidents that are happening right now is we are making it publicly available,” he said, adding that this resulted in increased awareness among Filipinos, the media, and the international community.

[Translation: I think the best way to put it is that the difference between the circumstances happening in the West Philippine Sea in the previous years, and those from the past weeks right after President Bongbong Marcos’ visit to China, is that all of the incidents that are happening right now is we are making them publicly available.]

“So, it is not correlated to say na after the visit ba, saka lang tumaas at naging aggressive ang China or after the visit ba, saka lang tayo nagpa-publicize ng ginagawa ng China? So, with that response sir, I cannot say that this response these incidents ay tumataas or dati na talagang nangyayari,” Tarriela clarified.

[Translation: So, it is not correlated to say that after the visit, China became more aggressive, or it was only after the visit that we began to publicize China’s actions? So, with that response sir, I cannot say that these incidents increased or have always happened before.]

He claimed that the Chinese embassy only “explain and justify” its actions in the disputed waters whenever “we publicize their bullying behavior,” and not when the country files a diplomatic protest.

“I think we are in the right direction right now with all those occurrences of bullying behavior, harassment of Filipino fishermen that the Philippine Coast Guard can document, once we publicize it, we are expecting that the Chinese will react,” he added.

According to Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Teresita Daza, the government has filed a diplomatic protest against China over the laser-pointing incident — the ninth such protest lodged against Beijing this year alone.

In 2022, she said Manila filed a total of 195 diplomatic protests, 76 of which were issued during the Marcos administration.

Marcos also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to express serious concern over the "increasing frequency and intensity” of Chinese actions against the country’s coast guard and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

China rejects the 2016 ruling from an international tribunal in The Hague, which invalidated Beijing’s claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.