The Filipino people roundly condemned the Chinese government for recently adopting a law authorizing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and destroy structures “illegally infringing on its national jurisdiction”, saying the law poses a serious threat to the security, stability and peaceful coexistence of countries in Southeast and East Asia.

In a statement dated 8 February, the Communist Party of the Philippines said, “Imperialist China claims the islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea as its own, based on its outdated and baseless ‘nine-dash line’ map… China is arrogantly ramming this law down the throats of the people of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, who all have territorial claims in the South China Sea.”

China’s legislative body National People’s Congress passed the Coast Guard Law on 22 January, taking effect on 1 February 2021. It allows the China Coast Guard to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

It also authorizes the destruction of “foreign structures” on Chinese-claimed areas, including those on the Philippines’ Pag-asa Island and Second Thomas Shoal. It gives the CCG authority to board and inspect foreign vessels in Chinese-claimed waters.

The UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal, in its July 2016 ruling, rejected China’s claims over the South China Sea based on its ‘nine-dashed line’. It also declared that China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to the latter’s EEZ and continental shelf.

China has repeatedly refused to recognize the UNCLOS ruling. Duterte had agreed to set aside the ruling “to pursue areas of cooperation” with China.

Speaking against the Coast Guard Law, Pamalakaya, the national alliance of Philippine artisanal fishers said it “contradicts the principle of freedom of navigation recognized by international maritime law.”

Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya Chairman said, “This is a serious threat to Filipino fishers, in our very own territorial waters… this is virtually a declaration of war against countries with legitimate claims in South China Sea.”

Prof. Renato de Castro, Professor of China Studies at the De La Salle University in Manila, said the law presents a threat to the safety of Filipino fishers and to the country’s food security. “This is a clear example of how our food security is threatened by the action of China,” he said.

The CPP likewise criticized the Duterte government for its “spinelessness and puppetry” in failing to defend Filipino fishers and Philippine sovereignty. It cited the latest harassment on 25 January of Filipino fishers who were intercepted and forced back by six Chinese Coast Guard vessels near the Kalayaan Islands in the West Philippine Sea. The Duterte government had announced that the incident is “under investigation”.