Philippine military chief warns his forces will fight back if assaulted again in disputed sea

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine forces will defend themselves with “the same level of force” if they come under assault again from China’s coast guard in the disputed South China Sea, where Chinese personnel armed with machetes and spears injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged two of their boats in a chaotic faceoff last month, the Philippine military chief said Thursday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. asked China to pay 60 million pesos ($1 million) in damages for the two navy boats and return seven rifles which he said were seized by Chinese coast guard personnel during the June17 confrontation at Second Thomas Shoal.

Philippine officials relayed the demands, along with a strong protest, during talks with a Chinese government delegation in Manila. The Chinese delegation did not immediately respond to the demands, a Philippine official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to discuss the sensitive issue publicly.

The Philippine military may also ask China to pay for planned surgery on the hand of a navy officer who lost his right thumb during the clash in the shoal when it was hit by a Chinese navy vessel that rammed his boat, Brawner said.

“What we’ll do is we will apply the same level of force that would allow us to defend ourselves,” Brawner said when asked in a news conference what Filipino navy personnel would do in case they are involved in another confrontation with Chinese forces at the shoal. “If a knife is used, for example, our personnel will also use a knife, nothing more, under the concept of proportionality.”

“When I said that we’ll fight back, I meant we won’t allow ourselves to be bullied just like that, just like what happened the last time because, of course, our adversaries had weapons,” Brawner said, without elaborating.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, have long been seen as a flash point that could pit the U.S. against China if the confrontations escalate into an armed conflict. Washington has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the disputed waters.

Second Thomas Shoal off the northwestern Philippines has emerged as a particularly dangerous area in the disputed South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety. Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships have surrounded Philippine marines aboard a grounded ship to prevent the delivery of food and other supplies to Manila’s territorial outpost.

China and the Philippines accuse each other of instigating the confrontation at the shoal last month. Beijing accused the Filipinos of entering what it called Chinese territorial waters despite repeated warnings, prompting its coast guard to take action. The Philippines said its navy personnel were delivering food and other supplies to the Filipino forces stationed at the territorial outpost when Chinese coast guard personnel onboard at least eight boats assaulted them.

Brawner spoke after he and other top military commanders met President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in a closed-door conference where they explained progress in counter-insurgency efforts and updated plans to defend Philippine territorial interests in the South China Sea. Marcos renewed an order to Filipino forces to take steps to de-escalate tensions in the disputed waters, Brawner said, adding that the military would continue to comply.

“We want to avoid war,” Brawner said, but added that the military would never allow any foreign country to trample on the Philippines’ territorial rights.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up