Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Batangas and Kalanggaman along with United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Bertholf on Tuesday, May 14, spotted two Chinese coast guard vessels seemingly monitoring the exercises.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said that the two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were seen near Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal during the capacity-building exercises 50 nautical miles from Subic Bay.
They claimed that at one point, one of the Chinese ships got as close as 2.9 nautical miles from the BRP Batangas. However, the Chinese vessels did not interact with the Philippine ship.
BRP Batangas Commanding Officer Commander Gary Dale Gimotea said that the capacity exercises were the first PH-U.S. engagement of its kind in the West Philippine Sea. The trainings included a rescue simulation and communication exercise.
“The U.S. has their capacity to conduct maritime law enforcement and maritime security, and the Philippines has its own set of protocols to do the same. By working together, we learn from each other and develop working harmony involving mutual interest of both countries,” he said.
He added that they were not bothered by the Chinese presence in the area. According to him, “they’re just trying to observe what we’re trying to do with the capability exercise involving the U.S. Coast Guard.”
“We still continue to do what we need to do. We have a job to protect and we are not really concerned with what they are doing there as long as we are doing our mandate within the law,” Gimotea explained as reported by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The commanding officer emphasized that the concern of the coast guard lies solely on the safety of the people and the immediate maritime environment.
“The coast guard is a humanitarian agency and is focused on saving lives. Almost all coast guards are one at sea and helping and keeping maritime security, maritime safety and environmental protection,” Gimotea said.
“It’s mutual interest between countries aimed at helping the people who use our maritime environment,” he added.
Scarborough, dubbed by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, has been a disputed area since 2012 when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.
Filipino fishermen reported that some Chinese Coast Guard ships drove them away from the shoal as wooden ships that bore China’s flag harvested giant clams.
With Chinese government ships watching from a distance, one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s biggest and most advanced vessels conducted drills with Philippine counterparts near the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).