9 December 2023 Manila, Philippines

The National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) vehemently condemns the illegal and aggressive actions carried out by the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia against the civilian Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw, and Datu Tamblot today during a regular BFAR humanitarian and support mission of providing oil subsidy and grocery packs to over 30 Filipino fishing vessels near Bajo De Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea. As of this reporting the mission is on-going.

Based on the reports received, as the BFAR vessels approached 1.4 to 1.9 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc, the Chinese Coast Guard ships utilized water cannons to obstruct and prevent BFAR vessels from approaching the Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the oil subsidy and grocery packs. The water cannons had been used at least eight (8) times at the time of reporting. Additionally, the Chinese Maritime Militia vessels are reported to have engaged in dangerous maneuvers and deployed what is understood to be a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against the BFAR vessels – causing severe temporary discomfort and incapacitation to some Filipino crew. Water cannon action have resulted in significant damage to BFAR vessel Datu Tamblot’s communication and navigation equipment, as it was directly and deliberately targeted by the China Coast Guard.

The Task Force likewise denounces the deployment of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to disperse and drive away Filipino fishing vessels eagerly awaiting the distribution of fuel subsidies and food supplies from the BFAR ships. To prevent the distribution of humanitarian support is not only illegal but also inhumane.

Moreover, Filipino fishermen have reported and documented the Chinese Coast Guard launching a small boat early this morning to illegally install a floating barrier at the southeast entrance of Bajo De Masinloc. The actions of Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia hindered the BFAR vessel from accessing the entrance of the shoal.

We stress that Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide feature with territorial sea, per the 2016 Arbitral Award. It forms an integral part of the Philippine national territory under the Constitution. The Philippines exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and its territorial sea. The 2016 Arbitral Award has also clarified that Filipinos have traditional fishing rights in the water of Bajo de Masinloc protected by international law.

China’s illegal exercise of maritime law enforcement powers, interference with Philippine vessels, harassment and intimidation of Filipino fisherfolk, or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the Arbitral Award.

We firmly insist that these Chinese vessels leave Bajo de Masinloc immediately.

We demand that the Chinese government take immediate action to halt these aggressive activities and uphold the principles of international law and desist from actions that would infringe on Philippine Sovereignty and endanger the lives and livelihood of Filipino fishermen who have traditionally fished in the area. The NTF-WPS remains committed to protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.