The presence of mind and the bravery of the men and women of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) at sea are essential now that it is at the forefront of the government’s efforts to assert its sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.
PCG commandant Adm. Artemio Abu underscored this Tuesday as he led the ceremony to honor the courage of the 133 commanders and crew members of BRP Malapascua and BRP Teresa Magbanua, the two multi-role response vessels (MRRVs) deployed in the troubled waters to conduct maritime patrol missions.
He acknowledged that the recent events that took place in the West Philippine Sea (WPS)—a China Coast Guard (CCG) laser attack on February 6 and a radio challenge against a Vietnamese-flagged trawler on February 9—were “highly contentious” and had been a challenge to the PCG, but should not break its resolve to defend the rights of the Filipino people.
“For whatever interpretations [they] may bear, I am enjoining our PCG sailors to continue to master the much-needed determination and courage to act positively, to endure, and to overcome,” Abu said, wanting them to keep in mind that the PCG has a responsibility on the frontlines of the Philippines’ sovereign powers in the region.
Abu further highlighted that they must uphold President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s declaration that the country will not cede a single square inch of its territory to other claimant states.
Citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the ruling of the International Tribunal, he asserted that the location near Ayungin Shoal where the laser-pointing incident occurred rightfully belongs to the nation.
“Malinaw ang pahayag ng ating pangulo sa lahat ng engagement that what is ours will remain to be ours—and the coast guardians are expected to do that. Not only us, but the entire government of our country. Hindi lang tayo ang naatasan niya [kundi] lahat ng antas ng pamahalaan. Yan ang posisyon ng ating commander-in-chief,” he said.
“Our position in this matter is recognized and supported by the community of like-minded nations. While we may not have the advantage of having larger and more sophisticated vessels, our unwavering determination and strong will to uphold our dignity as one solid independent nation and assert our sovereign rights will undoubtedly make a significant difference,” Abu added.
On February 6, while escorting Philippine Navy vessels bringing supplies to military soldiers in Ayungin Shoal, CCG ship 5205 prevented the BRP Malapascua from progressing by blinding its bridge crew with military-grade laser light.
According to the PCG, the BRP Malapascua shifted course from Ayungin to Lawak Island in compliance with her deployment plan in order to continue her maritime patrol and support the BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) with her RORE mission to its sub-stations in Kalayaan.
On February 9, BRP Teresa Magbanua radio challenged a Vietnamese fishing vessel at Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. The PCG said the MRRV deployed an inflatable rigid-hull boat for boarding and inspection purposes. However, when the crew spotted it, they left the bank.
The government has documented a spate of harassment tactics by China in the WPS, of which the two incidents are examples.
Abu went to the city to congratulate Capt. Rodel Hernandez of BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) and Cdr. Erwin Tolentino of BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) and gave them each the Distinguished Coast Guard Cross Medal and Ribbon.
The 131 officers and crewmembers of both vessels, including the ladies who issue radio challenges known as Angels of the Sea, were awarded too the Coast Guard Bronze Cross Medal and Ribbon.
The brief ceremony took place onboard the BRP Teresa Magbanua, which was docked at the city port on February 21.
Abu was joined in the event by the commander of the Coast Guard Fleet, Rear Adm. Charlie Rances; the new commander of the PCG in Palawan, Capt. Dennis Rem Labay; his deputy commander, Capt. Dorothy Manglicmot; and station commander of the PCG Central Palawan, Capt. Antolin Cayabo.