The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday accused a Chinese coast guard (CCG) vessel of pointing a "military-grade" laser light at one of its vessels supporting a military rotation and resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal.
In a statement, the PCG said the Chinese vessel with bow number 5205 directed a laser light at PCG vessel BRP Malapascua during a February 6 rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy.
"As BRP MALAPASCUA reached a 10nm distance from Ayungin Shoal, the CCG vessel was monitored approximately 4nm of the ship's dead ahead maneuvering from the portside heading starboard side," the PCG said.
The Chinese ship then "illuminated the green laser light twice" toward the BRP Malapascua, the PCG said, adding that the light caused "temporary blindness" to BRP Malapascua's crew at the bridge.
"The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel's starboard quarter," the PCG also said.
After the laser-pointing incident, the Philippine ship altered its course and headed to Lawak Island to continue maritime patrol and support the BRP Teresa Magbanua for the PCG's own mission to its sub-stations in the Kalayaan Island Group.
The Ayungin Shoal is located some 100 nautical miles off Palawan but is likewise near Mischief Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) reportedly occupied by China.
GMA News Online has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Manila for its comment, but it has yet to respond as of posting time.
Asked for reaction to the incident, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Cheloy Garafil said the Palace is referring to the PCG statement.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, said it has received the incident report from the PCG and is studying the report.
PCG commandant Admiral Artemio Abu vowed that they will keep using due diligence in addressing foreign aggression in the country’s territory while maintaining its presence in WPS.
"The PCG will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country's territorial integrity against foreign aggression," he said.
"The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) can always rely on the PCG to support their resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal," Abu added.
Despite the dangerous maneuver of the much larger Chinese ships and their aggressive actions at sea, Abu said the PCG ships will remain in the West Philippine Sea "to sustain our presence and assert our sovereign rights."
Interviewed on Dobol B TV, PCG spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo said the Philippine government might send a protest in connection with the incident.
"Dapat pong malaman ng lahat, makagawa ng anumang hakbang ang ating national government, maari pong protest. Ito po ay dapat masusing pag-aaralan," he said.
(Everyone should know so our national government will take an action, possibly a protest. It should be studied thoroughly.)
According to Balilo, aside from the DFA, the PCG has already reported the incident to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea.
Aside from the laser-pointing incident, the PCG also called out previous incidents where Philippine government ships were blocked from delivering food and supplies to military personnel in the West Philippine Sea, saying they were violations of the country’s sovereign rights.
"The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP SIERRA MADRE is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea," the PCG said.
In August 2022, the PCG said Chinese coast guard ships prevented Philippine vessels from coming to the Ayungin Shoal while providing security to a resupply mission.
It said the Chinese ship removed the cover of its 70 mm naval armament when BRP Teresa Magbanua came close to Ayungin Shoal.
"The said CCG ship, together with the two Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) and CCG 5102, formed a 13NM-radius blockade with the grounded PN vessel as its reference to prevent Philippine government ships from reaching the AFP troops," the PCG said.
"In this particular mission, it was evident that the CMM vessels took orders from the CCG to prevent the Philippine ships from entering the shoal. The CMM even deployed their utility boats to support the blockade and shadowing by the CCG," it added.
In a statement, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said this "shameless harassment" should warrant a penalty.
"Tensions are already high, but what is China doing instead? She is only getting more brazen by the day. Her shameless harassment, causing temporary blindness to Filipino crew members, should warrant a penalty," the senator said.
She also mentioned the need for proper support for the Philippine Navy and PCG as they implement proper countermeasures against "repeated unjust and violent operations of Chinese elements in the country's maritime zones."
Hontiveros said the Chinese government should act responsibly and restrain any behavior by its coast guard, navy and maritime militia that might further inflame the situation in the West Philippine Sea if it wants to show true leadership in the region.
The lawmaker called on Malacañang and the DFA to meet with other claimant-countries in the ASEAN, as well as the member-states of the QUAD, to ensure peace in the WPS.
"We need to establish an updated security framework with our partners in the region as soon as possible. Magpapatuloy ang pambabastos ng Tsina kung hindi sila napipigilan (China's disrespect will continue if they will not be prevented)," she said. —Joviland Rita, Anna Felicia Bajo and Hana Bordey/KBK/RSJ, GMA Integrated News