Philippines Accuses China Of EW Attack On It Ships & Using Disruptive Tactics To Jam Vessel’s Signals

Even as the stand-off between the Philippines and China refuses to de-escalate in the South China Sea, there is news that the Philippines Coast Guard has accused its Chinese counterpart of employing disruptive tactics along the disputed territory, which included jamming the tracking system of Filipino vessels.

In recent operations in the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea, which is largely claimed by China, the Philippines Coast Guard accused its Chinese counterpart on February 25 of jamming signals of Philippine ships’ tracking system at specific times, briefly prohibiting these vessels from broadcasting their positions at sea.

According to PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Commodore Jay Tarriela, “there were instances” where the PCG and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) were unable to transmit their automatic identification signals (AIS) during this month’s rotational deployments.

Without providing any evidence, Tarriela told reporters: “We assume that they do the jamming every time they release their statements that they repelled our vessels.” A vessel’s position is transmitted via the AIS so that other ships can recognize and locate it and they can be tracked by both satellites and ground stations.

Tarriela told the media that at approximately 8:00 a.m. on February 22, the China Coast Guard (CCG) allegedly blocked the AIS of BFAR’s BRP Datu Sanday, which was deployed in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) to provide fuel and guarantee the safety of Filipino fishermen.

The Chinese move was allegedly aimed “to support China’s press release of successful ‘repelling’ of Philippine state vessels.”

An hour later, Tarriela claimed, the CCG released a statement through their official website that they had repelled BRP Datu Sanday when it illegally intruded into waters adjacent to China’s Huangyan Dao, the Chinese name for the Scarborough Shoal, which has been claimed by both countries for several years.

The Philippines administration has taken a strong exception to the alleged jamming owing to the security threat attached to it. Tarriela stated that the PCG noticed the jamming during the last deployment of BRP Teresa Magbanua and BRP Datu Tamblot. He noted that through such jamming, any commercial AIS monitoring would not be able to find Filipino vessels.

BRP Teresa Magbanua of the PCG and BRP Datu Tamblot of the BFAR were sent out early this month for their first rotational deployment at Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is a productive fishing area off the coast of Zambales province and is located inside Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

China claims the Scarborough Shoal as its territory. Following a protracted standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012, China took possession of the shoal, leading the Philippine government to launch a case against it at the international arbitration court.

The Philippines won its case against China in the South China Sea on July 12, 2016, when an international arbitration tribunal declared that China’s claims, including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation efforts, and other actions in Philippine waters, were illegal. China has declined to acknowledge the decision.

A spokesman for the China Coast Guard said in a statement in late January that China has unquestionable sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding waters and has always vigorously opposed infringements by the Philippines. There have been multiple incidents of confrontation between the coast guards of the two countries in this specific region.

Earlier this month, the fisheries bureau of the Philippines accused Chinese fishing vessels of destroying Scarborough Shoal, a fish-rich atoll in the South China Sea that is under dispute between Beijing and Manila, with cyanide.

Showdown at Scarborough Shoal

China’s engagement with the Philippines Coast Guard is completely different. Informed sources reportedly told the Chinese state publication Global Times that a group of formally organized Philippine fishing ships recently trespassed into Chinese territorial seas near Huangyan Dao, popularly known as Huangyan Island, in the South China Sea.

Chinese sources alleged that the Philippines arranged for a few civilian ships to enter China’s Huangyan Dao maritime area illegally. These boats, which received funding from state subsidies, exploited China’s goodwill using fishing as a cover, breached Chinese sovereignty and jurisdiction, and worsened the marine situation.

More than a dozen Philippine vessels assembled close to Huangyan Dao, according to photos the publication received. The China Coast Guard (CCG) was also present.

Ding Duo, deputy head of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies’ Research Center for Ocean Law and Policy, told the Global Times on February 25 that Filipino officials encouraged fishermen to reach areas under Chinese sovereignty by giving them free fuel.

Shortly after the incident, Chinese analysts said that by provocatively challenging Beijing’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over islands and reefs in the South China Sea, Manila has been deliberately undermining Beijing’s goodwill since 2023.

They also warned that if these provocations continued, China may be compelled to take more drastic measures to maintain control over the situation.

During his 2016 visit to China, the then-president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, agreed to make the necessary arrangements, given China’s friendly relations with the Philippines. The two discussed bilateral cooperation in the fishing industry as well as fishery cooperation in the South China Sea.

Chinese Coast Guard training its water guns on Philippines’ vessel in December 2023 (via Platform X)

“During the Duterte period, China and the Philippines reached a consensus that they would not discuss the South China Sea issues under the premise of the [so-called South China Sea] Arbitration and made temporary arrangements at the operational level for Filipino fishermen in the waters near Huangyan Dao,” Ding said.

Ding cited this consensus in his assertion that Philippine fishing boats were prohibited from entering the lagoon, searching for rare marine life, or causing harm to the natural environment. Similarly, Philippine maritime forces were prohibited from entering Huangyan Dao’s waters or from driving out Chinese fishermen.

He accused the Philippines of provocatively attacking China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea, including Ren’ai Jiao (also called Ren’ai Reef) and Huangyan Dao, since the latter part of 2023 and warned the country of the consequences.