Journalists reflect on covering tense face-off between PH and Chinese vessels during resupply mission

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — Two broadcast journalists, who joined the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in its most recent resupply mission for the BRP Sierra Madre, looked back at how Chinese vessels employed aggressive tactics and dangerous maneuvers to block them from reaching Manila's military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

At one point, the Philippine and Chinese vessels were only three meters apart, the journalists claimed, giving them a clear look at the "stoic faces" of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) personnel.

CNN Philippines' senior correspondent David Santos, and ABS-CBN defense reporter Bianca Dava were among the six journalists invited by the PCG to cover the mission on Sept. 8.

Both Santos and Dava reflected on witnessing the harassment of PCG by the CCG in an interview with CNN Philippines' Politics As Usual on Wednesday night.

RELATED: PH concludes new resupply mission to Ayungin after continued ‘harassment’ by China

Santos said only government vessels and personnel had the means to go to Ayungin Shoal as it was not easily accessible.

"When that opportunity came na may tumawag sa amin [that we got a call] to join this resupply mission, we can't just say no to that," Dava said.


Both Santos and Dava recalled the 12-hour sea trip that would bring them close to their destination.

Santos was onboard the BRP Sindangan, while Dava was with BRP Cabra. Each recalled the mood on their respective vessels, saying it was "chill," but wondered what would happen once morning broke.

"There is that uncertainty," Santos shared.. "Sa dami, ilang years na ring gingawa ito, and almost every month may rotation and resupply (RoRe) mission yung authorities. There's always this question of uncertainty kung ano ang mangyayari every time na may RoRe."

[Translation: There is that uncertainty. They have been doing this for many years and almost every month there is a rotation and resupply mission by authorities. There's always this question of uncertainty of what will happen every time there is a RoRe.]

It was at Sabina Shoal where they met with the resupply boats and it was at dawn on their way to Ayungin that they saw Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

"Parang nape-predict na ng China Coast Guard na magsasagawa ng RoRe mission ang gobyerno natin," Santos said. "Because this is a recurring mission, so parang nape-predict nila what time, what day -- kaya pumuwesto na sila diyan."

[Translation: It seems like the China Coast Guard can predict when the government will do a RoRe mission. Because this is a recurring mission, so they can predict what time, what day -- so they positioned themselves there.]

This was when Chinese vessels began blocking the resupply mission. Dava recalled that at one point, only three meters separated the Philippines vessels from the Chinese chips.

However, Santos said despite the tense situation, the PCG personnel were calm.

'Lumaban ka, Pilipinas'

While the incident was unfolding, Santos said he was "admittedly annoyed."

"Admittedly, I was annoyed. I was whispering to myself, 'Pilipinas lumaban ka!'" Santos recalled. "You're being overwhelmed by many emotions -- takot, fear, at the same time, anger. Kasi gusto ko rin intindihin bakit nila ginagawa 'to?"

[Translation :Admittedly, I was annoyed. I was whispering to myself, 'Philippines, you must fight.' You're being overwhelmed by many emotions -- fear, anger. because I want to understand why they're doing this.]

He said he knew what the Philippines was fighting for, but he was not so sure what was in it for China.

Dava, meanwhile, said at one point she felt fear.

"Sa akin, at one point, natakot ako when I saw 5305.," the ABS-CBN journalist revealed. "That was the biggest coast guard ship that time ng Chinese Coast Guard. Kasi sabi ko ang laki niya, anong mangyayari sa amin kung bigla kaming binangga nito?"

"And then later mas nangibabaw yung galit, yung inis din." she continued. "Kasi nakita ko how aggressive they were. Hindi nga kami na-water cannon pero ang aggressive nila, hindi sila natatakot na i-cut yung path namin."

[Translation: At one point I felt fear when I saw 5305. That was the biggest coast guard ship at that time of the Chinese Coast Guard. I thought what's going to happen to us if we get hit? And then later there was anger, annoyance. Because I saw how aggressive they were, they were fearless cutting our path.]

Dava said that while the public receives information from authorities about the West Philippine Sea, it becomes more real when a journalist is able to actually show what is happening.

Santos, meanwhile, said that as a journalist, he kept his emotions in check but it cannot be taken away.

"I am a journalist, but I am also a Filipino," he explained. "I get affected by how things are affecting our kababayans, whether they are ordinary civilians or they are in government trying to do their job also."

Santos added that he wanted to present the story from the perspectives of those at the frontlines.