Senator backs PCG amid ‘unprofessionalism’ accusations sparked by viral online exchange

August 8, 2023 - 7:25 PM
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Water cannon spray
A Chinese Coast Guard ship launches what the Coast Guard says is a warning water cannon spray in the direction of a Philippine vessel at an unknown location at sea in this screen grab taken from a video released on August 8, 2023. (China Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

A senator said he stands by the Philippine Coast Guard amid the water cannon firing incident at the West Philippine Sea after gaining attention for responding to an online user about the encroachment.

Sen. Win Gatchalian on Tuesday commented on a post of Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela about the “unlawful behavior” of the China Coast Guard (CCG) on vessels on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

The shoal, which Tarriela said is located 114 nautical miles from Palawan, is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or the area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline as defined under existing laws.

The incident happened on Saturday, August 5, when a supply boat of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) — escorted by PCG — was blocked and cannoned by water by a CCG vessel.

The supply boat carried food, water, fuel, and other supplies to the Philippine military stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre.

According to the AFP, a second boat was unable to unload supplies and complete its rotation and resupply mission following the incident.

READ: Philippines says China blocked, water-cannoned boat in South China SeaPhilippines demands China cease ‘unlawful’ activities in South China Sea

PCG condemned its Chinese counterpart’s “excessive and offensive” actions, adding that Beijing violated laws, including two international conventions and a ruling from a global tribunal.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concluded in 2016 that China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea was groundless. Beijing, however, maintains it does not accept any claim or action based on the ruling.

National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said that the Philippines would not abandon its post in the Ayungin Shoal despite the incident.

RELATED: Philippines tells China it will not abandon post in disputed reef

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also said the country would continue to assert its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, adding that Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has sent a note verbale to the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian responded to a post of Tarriela on X (formerly Twitter) who shared videos of the water cannon incident and condemned the CCG.

“The Philippine Coast Guard expresses strong condemnation towards the unlawful behavior exhibited by the China Coast Guard vessels (CCG 4203 and CCG 5305) for their unwarranted use of water cannons against the MRRV-4409,” the PCG spokesperson wrote.

“Additionally, we call on the CCG to adhere to the COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) to prevent any potential collisions, as they are also a signatory to this important convention,” Tarriela added.

“I stand by our brave men and women of the Philippine Coast Guard,” the senator responded on August 8.

Gatchalian’s comment came after his previous response to an online user was called out by some users on the microblogging platform.

The online user reposted a clip of the incident shared by maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

“Baka may opinion kayo? @jvejercito, @stgatchalian and other senators. Baka lang,” the Twitter user wrote on Sunday, August 6.

“Marami. Baka may suggestions ka. Baka lang,” Gatchalian responded after he saw the tag.

Others who saw his comment called it “unprofessional.”

“Adding to the ratio because ganito ba sumagot ang politicians ngayon? Like, how unprofessional can you be,” another online user wrote.

“This reply is coming from an elected Senator… #ThisisWhereOurTaxesGo,” another online user commented.

“This is how a sitting senator replies to a tax payer who asked for his opinion regarding a national issue. Kaunting professionalism naman oh, baka lang naman, suggestion lang ‘to,” another X user commented.

In its latest action near Ayungin Shoal, Beijing defended its CCG by saying that its actions were “professional, restrained and beyond reproach.”

“The Philippines promised several times to tow it away, but has yet to act,” China’s foreign ministry said.

The Asian giant has been encroaching on the West Philippine Sea, an area in the South China Sea that is within Manila’s EEZ, for years.

Beijing has gotten more aggressive despite the 2016 Hague ruling invalidating China’s sweeping nine-dash claim on the entire South China Sea.

Some actions of Chinese vessels include ramming a fishing boat near Recto Bank, forcefully taking something from the PCG near Pag-asa Island, and swarming near Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the Spratly Islands, among others.