PH, US defense chiefs talk on phone after latest China harassment

By GMA Integrated News

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and his US counterpart Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke on the phone on Wednesday in the wake of the latest harassment by the China Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.

According to a readout sent by the US Embassy in Manila, Austin reaffirmed the ironclad US commitment to the Philippines following the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia’s "dangerous obstruction of a lawful Philippine resupply mission."

"[Austin] emphasized US support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and reiterated that the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries' armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft—including those of its Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea," the US DoD's readout said.

The West Philippine Sea refers to the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

The phone conversation took place before the predominantly Catholic country goes into an extended weekend with the solemn observance Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday. 

A Philippine vessel carrying supplies for Filipino troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, Unaizah May 4 (UM4) on Saturday suffered "heavy" damage after receiving water cannon blasts from China Coast Guard (CCG) ships in its approach to Ayungin Shoal.

In a series of updates to the media, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that as of 8:52 a.m. on March 23, UM4 "sustained heavy damage... due to the continued blasting of water cannons" from two CCG vessels.

The CCG had continuously impeded the voyage of the UM4, a civilian contracted ship, and its escort vessels on Saturday.

According the AFP, at past 6 a.m., a CCG vessel performed a "dangerous maneuver of crossing the bow" of UM4.

About an hour later, the CCG then conducted a "reverse blocking maneuver" against UM4 on the latter's approach to Ayungin Shoal "causing near collision."

'Impeded, encircled'


Just minutes later, Philippine Coast Guard escort vessel MRRV 4409 was "impeded and encircled" by a CCG vessel and two Chinese militia ships, according to Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

Tarriela said, "MRRV 4409 has been isolated from the resupply boat due to the irresponsible and provocative behavior of the Chinese maritime forces, who have shown a disregard for the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS)."

Right before 8 a.m., the AFP said, the CCG "started blasting water cannon" at UM4 "deliberately targeting and hitting supply boat." Succeeding videos from the PCG showed that the supply vessel received sustained water cannon blasts from the CCG.

At 8:38 a.m., two CCG vessels directed water cannons at the UM4, which eventually sustained heavy damage.

Helping the supply ship

The AFP later reported that BRP Cabra, a PCG vessel, managed to maneuver and reach UM4 to provide assistance.

The UM4 is the same vessel that was damaged after being water cannoned by the China Coast Guard earlier this month. Four Filipino Navy crew members were injured in that incident.

Meanwhile, a report from Reuters quoted the China Coast Guard as saying that it took control measures against Philippine vessels in the Second Thomas Shoal and Spratly Islands waters on Saturday. 

The AFP said UM4 departed the Naval Detachment Oyster Bay in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on Friday, March 22, 2024. It is escorted by two Philippine Navy ships and two more from the Philippine Coast Guard. —NB, GMA Integrated News