Chinese military ships harass vessel with journo in Philippine waters

Photo from ABS-CBN

CMFR/PHILIPPINES — A Filipino civilian vessel with ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano on board was harassed by Chinese coast guard and two missile attack ships just 90 nautical miles from Palawan province on Thursday, April 8.  

Zambrano and her news team were in the West Philippine Sea to report on the situation of Filipino fisherfolk. In a TV Patrol report, Zambrano recalled that they were heading for the Ayungin Shoal when a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel followed them and demanded through a radio message that they identify themselves. The civilian vessel was well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

The Filipino captain changed course, but the CCG vessel sped up and got so close that its number (5101) was visible to Zambrano and her team. It slowed down and turned away after an hour, but two smaller, missile-armed attack vessels continued to follow the Filipino vessel even when it was only 90 nautical miles from mainland Palawan. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched an investigation on April 9 as ordered by the Department of National Defense. It also released a statement that in effect blamed the news team for the incident by declaring that “while we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job.” The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines stressed that Zambrano was in a civilian vessel in Philippine waters. “It is almost (as if) the military (were) asking the Filipino journalists ‘what were you doing there?’  when the better question might be aimed at the AFP: What were you not doing there?” NUJP said in their statement.