Philippines Demands China to Pay for Damages, Return Guns

(Bloomberg) -- China’s coast guard “looted” firearms and destroyed Philippine boats during a South China Sea clash this week, military officials said, prompting Manila to demand compensation from Beijing.

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“They have no right or legal authority to hijack our operations and destroy Philippine vessels operating within our exclusive economic zone,” Philippine military chief Romeo Brawner Jr. said of Chinese forces in a briefing Wednesday. “They are acting like pirates.”

China Coast Guard personnel “illegally” boarded Philippine rubber boats during Manila’s resupply mission Monday to its military outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal, Alfonso Torres Jr., head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command said. They then seized and disassembled the firearms found in the Philippine boats, he said.

“The firearms were looted,” Torres said, adding the Chinese crew also “deliberately punctured” Philippine rubber boats using knives and other pointed materials during the encounter.

The details of Monday’s encounter, one of the most serious incidents yet between the two countries in the disputed, resource-rich waterway, were revealed as the Philippines and other countries denounced China’s latest actions.

China on Wednesday maintained that the “law enforcement measures” taken by its coast guard were professional.

“It only stopped Philippine vessels from illegal transportation. No direct measures have been taken against Philippine personnel,” China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said at a regular briefing in Beijing, accusing Manila of “smuggling” weapons and construction materials, and attempting to occupy Second Thomas Shoal.

Brawner said it was the first time that the Chinese coast guard “brought with them bolos, spears and knives,” prompting Filipino soldiers to fight back “with their bare hands.”

“Our action now is we are demanding that the Chinese return our rifles, and our equipment and we are also demanding them to pay for the damages they have caused. This is piracy because they boarded our boats illegally and they got our equipment,” he said.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration has asserted the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea, defying Bejiing’s expansive claims over the waterway.

Brawner visited the Western Command headquarters in the island province of Palawan to check on personnel who were injured during the mission, including one who lost a finger.

“He said that he is willing to go back to serve again in the West Philippine Sea,” Brawner said, recalling a conversation with the serviceman and using Manila’s term for the waters within its exclusive economic zone. “They didn’t lose their fighting spirit, and that’s what’s important.”

The latest maritime incident shows that China is trying to increase pressure on the Philippines, and could also be seen as a test for the US’ support of its treaty ally, according to Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore.

“It appears that Beijing hopes to wear down the Philippines to get them to withdraw from Second Thomas Shoal,” he said.

--With assistance from Andreo Calonzo and Bingyan Wang.

(Adds comments from China’s foreign ministry, professor.)

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