SECURITY and maritime experts urged the government to stand up against China’s “gray zone” tactics in encroaching into Philippine waters.
Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commodore Jay Tarriola said that the most important role of the PCG in recent weeks in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is removing the shades of gray and exposing what China is doing in black and white.
“The Philippine Coast Guard’s persistent presence in patrolling the contested waters while at the same time documenting China’s activities allowed the international community to criticize their (China’s) actions that violate international law and violate international rules based order,” Tarriola said during a forum on “gray zone operations” in the Indo-Pacific organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Philippines.
National security, maritime law and geopolitical experts also suggested that the Philippines engage in collective deterrence activities with like-minded allies against Chinese territorial aggression.
Maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said Chinese operations in the WPS are now becoming “more and more clearly hostile and aggressive.”
The China Coast Guard (CCG) on February 8 beamed a military-grade laser on a PCG ship on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal resulting in the temporary blindness of PCG personnel.
The incident was followed by the reported presence of a People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel, a CCG vessel and 42 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels within the surrounding waters of the Pag-asa Island.
Batongbacal urged the government not to be afraid to consider proportional and reasonable responses to threats against Filipinos in the WPS.
“We should not shy away every time they make threatening moves and then we retreat for fear of provocation,” he said.
“There should be no gray area anymore. We need to begin erasing the gray zone. We need to begin acting and standing up for our lawful maritime rights,” Batongbacal added.
Stratbase President Dindo Manhit also urged the Marcos administration to cooperate with like-minded states in conducting joint patrols and maritime domain awareness campaigns.
“The Philippines and other Indo-Pacific states must engage in strategies that will ultimately change China’s behavior to be symbiotic with the internationally established rules-based order. Instead of coercion, states must strengthen cooperation in bilateral, multilateral, and minilateral means. China’s activities within Philippine territory, driven by its expansionist ambitions and militarization, cannot be allowed,” Manhit said.
Among the offensive Chinese activities mentioned in the forum were swarming Philippine waters with fishing and militia vessels, blocking resupply missions, tailing scientific vessels and pointing military-grade lasers against PCG vessels.
“We cannot let this aggression continue,” Manhit added.
Prof. Renato de Castro said seeking help from allies is necessary to stop China’s aggression.
“To limit China’s ability to conduct gray zone operations against the Philippines requires Manila, Washington, Canberra and Tokyo to convey strong signals of commitment for mutual assistance through security agreements, troop deployments, arms transfers and multinational exercises, thereby reducing the Philippines’ sense of insecurity,” de Castro said.
Retired colonel Raymond Powell, a fellow of Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, urged the government to engage the public on the issue with information drive.
“Exposure is key to deterring and building resilience against them,” Powell said, adding the key is giving credible independent analysts, influencers and the media access to commercially available maritime data.
Powell also suggested embedding journalists in PCG vessels to monitor and document Chinese territorial aggression.
“An engaged public is key to deterring gray zone actors and building national resilience,” he said.