File photo of CCG vessel 5201 shadowing BRP Malapascua approximately 2 nautical miles northeast of Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on March 21, 2023. | Photo from the Philippine Coast Guard

Numerous foreign-flagged boats, including three China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy Jiangdao II class missile corvette, were spotted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) while performing maritime patrol in the West Philippine Sea during the Kalayaan expedition week.

According to the PCG on Thursday, during BRP Malapascua’s (MRRV 4403) maritime patrol (MARPAT) mission from March 16-21, it sighted in the vicinity of Sabina Shoal around 20 Chinese and Vietnamese vessels, and encountered CCG ships 5304 and 5305.

“The PCG vessel issued multiple radio challenges, but it received no response. BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) also deployed rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to disperse the foreign-flagged vessels in and around the shoal,” the PCG stated.

It also spotted the PLA warship with bow number 649 when it was operating within the territorial waters of Pag-asa Island, which extend out to a distance of 12 nautical miles.

China vessels at 1.56 nautical miles southeast of Sabina Shoal taken on March 16. | Photo from the Philippine Coast Guard

The PCG released repeated radio challenges, to which the PLA navy warship responded with its own.

The PCG further stated that while patrolling Ayungin Shoal on its route to Buliluyan Port in Bataraza municipality, BRP Malapascua encountered CCG vessel 5201 and issued radio challenges.

“CCGV 5201 shadowed BRP Malapascua at a distance of approximately 1,600 yards,” the PCG reported, without mentioning that, according to Palawan News sources, it was ferrying back to mainland Palawan around 32 Kalayaan expedition participants.

PCG noted that the BRP Malapascua approached as near as 1.2 nautical miles to the grounded Philippine Navy BRP Sierra Madre (PN). This instance, a source said, was the closest the multi-role response vessel was able to get near Ayungin Shoal.

BRP Malaspacua was the same PCG vessel where CCG 5205 aimed a military-grade laser light on February 6, 2023, near Ayungin.

The PCG said it has already submitted a report on the latest MARPAT to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) for proper disposition.

“PCG and AFP-WESCOM’s MARPAT missions remain invaluable in protecting and securing the country’s rights and interests in the WPS,” the PCG also stated.

PCG commandant, Adm. Artemio Abu, again emphasized of MARPATs and the need to promote peace and stability in the region. (with a report from Celeste Anna Formoso)