No lasers: PCG to revise how it protects its ships
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said it was planning to revise its rules in responding to threats and harassment against its vessels and personnel following the Chinese coast guard’s use of a high-intensity laser that temporarily blinded some crew members on one of its ships in the West Philippine Sea earlier this month.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said they would “definitely” exclude such lasers from their ships.
“We don’t have plans to use laser technology as part of our weaponry in our vessels,” he said at the Laging Handa briefing on Thursday.
He had earlier said that it was “worrisome” to employ such types of lasers because they could cause temporary blindness.
At Thursday’s briefing, he said that what they were planning to do instead was to revise the “rules for the use of force” to guide the PCG on how to respond to threats against its vessels.
On Feb. 6, a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship beamed a powerful military-grade laser at the BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) while it was supporting a Philippine Navy resupply mission to a military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, causing momentary blindness among the bridge crew.
Manila filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing and calls were made on the government to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States on grounds that the Chinese action was an “attack” against the Philippines.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had said that what its coast guard used at that time was a handheld laser and green light pointer to measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel to ensure “navigation safety.” Both the PCG and the Department of Foreign Affairs rejected the explanation.
It was the second time that the Chinese used bright blinding lights against the PCG.
In June last year, a Chinese navy ship directed its searchlight at the BRP Habagat for 20 minutes and flashed “blue-colored lights with blinkers” at the tugboat’s bridge, which also resulted in brief blindness and skin itchiness among the crew on duty.
The CCG ship with bow No. 5205, which was involved in the laser-pointing incident, left Ayungin on Feb. 8 and returned to Hainan. It was replaced by another ship to keep China’s constant presence at the shoal, where the Philippines had established its rusting outpost, the Navy’s grounded BRP Sierra Madre, to mark its claim.
Sino vessels remain
Chinese vessels remained at the shoal despite condemnation from the international community and the recent diplomatic protest from the Philippines.
During the PCG’s aerial patrol on Tuesday, a Chinese coast guard ship was spotted outside Ayungin, while four Chinese maritime militia vessels were anchored inside.
At Sabina (Escoda) Shoal, which is just 135 kilometers away from Palawan province, the PCG spotted 26 maritime militia vessels.
“It only shows that until now, China has been ignoring our legal ownership of Ayungin Shoal,” Tarriela said.
In 2016, the international arbitral tribunal in the Hague ruled that China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, had no legal or historical basis. Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef well within the country’s 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, belongs to the Philippines.
“We are not competing. This is not disputed as far as the Philippine government is concerned. It’s ours,” Tarriela said.
He said the Philippines has intensified its patrols there to counter Chinese presence.
“The PCG, regardless of our limited assets, will make sure that we will maintain our presence in Philippine waters, inside our EEZ, and we will continue to patrol and protect Filipino fishermen,” he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines also deploys ships and aircraft to the West Philippine Sea.