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PCG aircraft challenged by Chinese vessel as Atin Ito civilian mission to WPS sets off

PCG aircraft challenged by Chinese vessel as Atin Ito civilian mission to WPS sets off

A Philippine Coast Guard aircraft on Wednesday sighted a huge number of Chinese vessels, including a warship, in and around Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, where a civilian mission is headed. 

A group of journalists, including our team from GMA Integrated News, were on board the PCG aircraft to witness the conduct of its maritime awareness domain (MDA) flight. 

Flying at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, the PCG’s Cessna Caravan 2081 spotted 18 China Coast Guard and militia vessels and one People’s Liberation Army warship scattered in various locations, a big jump from the usual deployment of eight vessels at the shoal, which is also called Bajo de Masinloc and Scarborough Shoal.

The MDA flight was carried out just minutes ahead of the departure of the Atin Ito Coalition volunteers aboard fishing boats, in an effort to distribute assistance to fishermen in Panatag Shoal. 

“They [China] really want to intimidate the civil society thinking that the more vessels they deploy it will threaten this kind of initiative,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela, the PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea. 

Double floating barriers were also seen at the entrance of the shoal, an apparent move to seal off the lagoon, Tarriela surmised. 

At approximately 30 nautical miles towards the reef, a stern radio challenge from another Chinese Navy ship came through the plane’s communication system, warning the pilots to leave the area. 

“Leave immediately or you will be responsible for all the consequences,” said the message that was delivered in a forceful voice. 

Practically the same radio message was repeated three more times: “Philippine aircraft, this is Chinese Navy warship 105. China has undisputed sovereignty over the island.” 

But the woman in command of the PCG plane and her co-pilot stood their ground and also issued radio challenges. 

Unperturbed by the threatening radio messages from the Chinese warship, the PCG aircraft continued its flight over Panatag Shoal for at least 30 minutes, documenting the position and movement of the Chinese naval assets. 

In light of China doubling its ship deployment, the PCG has added two more vessels to ensure the safety of the civilian mission to Panatag Shoal, Tarriela said. — BM, GMA Integrated News