Three Chinese Coast Guard vessels fired off a water cannon on two Philippine ships to stop them from going to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he protested in “the strongest term” this incident to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and even reminded China that the attacked Philippine ship is a “public vessel” and covered by the Philippine-US defense treaty.

In a statement, Locsin said the DFA received a report from the AFP Western Command that two Philippine supply ships doing routine transport of food supplies to Filipino soldiers were “blocked and water cannoned” while on their way to Ayungin Shoal (international name: Second Thomas Shoal), located 194 kilometers west of Palawan.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt; but our boats had to abort their resupply mission,” Locsin said.

Around a dozen of Philippine Navy personnel are stationed in Ayungin Shoal, on board a rickety World War II vintage BRP Sierra Madre. China has been harassing resupply ships coming to the shoal after the ship was deliberately run aground at the shoal in 1999. 

“I have conveyed in the strongest terms to H.E. Huang Xilian, Ambassador of China and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident,” the country’s top diplomat said 

Ayungin Shoal (Image by Google Maps via CNN Philippines)

Locsin also asserted that the Philippines has “sovereignty and jurisdiction” over Ayungin Shoal as it is part of the Philippine territory — being an “integral part of the Kalayaan Island Group” — and has maritime “sovereign rights” as it is also part of its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

“The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal. China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” he said. 

He also “reminded” China that “a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Under the MDT, US is under treaty obligation to help the Philippines in case of attack by a foreign aggressor within the Philippine territory, in the Pacific area or on any Philippine public vessel.

This is the first time that the Philippines publicly mentioned the MDT over an incident in the West Philippine Sea.

Yesterday, the Philippines got a reassurance from the US diplomatic and defense officials that the MDT’s scope of the “the Pacific Area includes the South China Sea.” Locsin said by attacking the Philippine vessel, Chinese Coast Guard “fail[ed] to exercise self-restraint” and “threatens the special relationship” between Manila and Beijing that President Duterte and President Xi Jing Ping “have worked hard to nurture.”

“The Philippines will continue to provide supplies to our troops in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). We do not ask permission to do what we need to do in our territory,” he added.

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