Philippine Coast Guard Mission
On February 11th, the Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua returned to port from a nine-day mission to patrol the area surrounding Scarborough Shoal. PCG Commandant, Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, ordered the mission to monitor the safety and security of Philippine fishermen as well as offer them assistance if needed. The vessel supported around 100 Philippine fisherfolk in around 14 boats by distributing food packs, groceries, and water to them during their long-range fishing voyage.
China Coast Guard Harassment and Reaction
During her mission, the Teresa Magbanua monitored four Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels that were also present at the shoal. The four vessels shadowed the Teresa Magbanua around 40 times during the patrol, with one vessel coming within 577 feet (176 meters) of her front port side. The vessels also conducted several “dangerous and blocking maneuvers at sea” against the PCG vessel on four occasions, with two vessels crossing the Teresa Magbanua two times. There were also four Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels near the shoal in addition to the CCG ships. The Teresa Magbanua communicated with the eight vessels via radio, stating the Philippines’ position is in accordance with international law in a professional manner.
Chinese state media outlet, the Global Times, released a statement saying that the PCG vessel “illegally intruded into the waters adjacent” to Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island). The article also mentioned that the CCG vessels “implemented measures according to law such as route control and driving it away.”
The PCG deployed the BRP Teresa Magbanua to Scarborough Shoal as part of its response to the January 12th incident, where CCG personnel harassed and forced a group of Philippine fishermen to dump their catch back into the water. However, the PCG did not say if the Teresa Magbanua relieved another PCG or Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel or if another vessel relieved it on February 9th. The lack of communication regarding the relief of vessels indicates that the Philippines wants to maintain some degree of operational security for the monitoring mission. Another reason is that the PCG and BFAR are likely still figuring out how to schedule the monitoring missions to equally share the burden.
However, the mission also shows that China will continue to aggressively push back against any actions the Philippines takes to enforce its claims to Scarborough Shoal. The CCG vessel’s blocking and other aggressive actions against the Teresa Magbanua also indicate China’s willingness to employ similar tactics it uses in the South China Sea at the shoal. The Global Times statement pointing out that the CCG used measures according to law reinforces this point since it is a veiled warning to the Philippines to stop the monitoring patrols.