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Saturday, June 22, 2024

PH resupplies Ayungin anew

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But condemns ‘illegal’ acts of China ships that interfered with operation

The Philippines successfully resupplied its Marine contingent on the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Friday but condemned “illegal” actions by Chinese vessels that interfered with the operation.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which includes key Philippine government agencies, said it “strongly deplores and condemns the continued illegal, aggressive, and destabilizing conduct” of Chinese coast guard and “militia” vessels in the waters.

On Friday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard escorted supply vessels to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where a handful of Filipino Marines are stationed on a crumbling navy ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, the task force said.

While the mission was successful, the task force said it was informed that “China coast guard and Chinese maritime militia” vessels had carried out “harassment, dangerous maneuvers, and aggressive conduct” toward the Philippine boats.

China claims almost the entire waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually, and has ignored an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

In a statement, the China Coast Guard spokesperson accused the Philippine boats of entering the waters around the reef “without obtaining permission from the Chinese government.”

“The Chinese Coast Guard issued stern warnings, trailed their entire course, and effectively regulated the Philippine ships in accordance with the law,” the spokesperson said.

Ayungin Shoal is about 200 kilometers from Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

STRAIGHT TO AYUNGIN. These screen grabs from a Philippine Coast Guard video show PCG boats assisting the routine Rotation and Resupply (RoRe) mission to Ayungin Shoal conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, despite attempts by the Chinese Coast Guard to block the flotilla. The PCG deployed its two 44-meter vessels, the BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), as escort ships for the resupply boats. PCG Photo

The resupply mission came a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told the 18-nation East Asia Summit in Indonesia to oppose the use of “coast guard and maritime militia vessels” in the South China Sea.

Marcos told the gathering, which was attended by China, that Manila was concerned about the installation of military facilities on reclaimed features such as outcrops and reefs, as well as violations of international law.

“We are concerned over consistent actions that are in violation of obligations under international law,” Marcos said, according to a transcript of his remarks released by the presidential palace.

“We must oppose the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea.”

He did not mention any country by name at the summit, which was attended by Chinese Premier Li Qiang and US Vice President Kamala Harris.

China deploys hundreds of vessels to patrol the South China Sea and swarm reefs.

Its coast guard and navy ships routinely block or shadow Philippine boats in the contested waters, Manila has said.

The Philippines, a longtime US ally, has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratlys, including Ayungin Shoal.

The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded the World War II-era BRP Sierra Madre on the shoal in 1999 to check China’s advance in the waters.

The troops stationed on the rusty ship depend on regular deliveries for their survival.

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

Tensions between the countries flared last month when China Coast Guard vessels used water cannon against a Philippine resupply mission, preventing one of the boats from delivering its cargo.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said Friday’s operation was a manifestation of its resolve to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its maritime zones.

“The unprofessional act and dangerous maneuvers conducted by the China Coast Guard and its maritime militia will never prevail over our conduct of legal and legitimate operations that support rules-based international order,” he added.

China, on the other hand, claims without legal basis that it has sole rights to the islands inside their 10-dash line and opposed what it called “the illegal transportation of construction materials” by Filipino sailors to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The China Coast Guard (CCG) maintained that it would continue “to carry out law enforcement activities in the sea areas under China’s jurisdiction according to law.”

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri thanked and congratulated the Philippine Navy and the Coast Guard for completing another resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

“I salute our men and women of the AFP and PCG for fearlessly staying on track to complete their mission, despite intimidation from the Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels,” Zubiri said.

“As long as the law and truth are on our side, illegal barriers to what is ours will continue to be pierced, by the sharp tip of world opinion that upholds our cause as just,” he said.

On Thursday night, President Marcos returned from Indonesia, where he attended the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

“I emphasized the importance of a rules-based international order especially in the disputes in the South China Sea, in as much as they affect not only our nation but the entire region,” he said in his report about the recently concluded summit.

In a video posted on his YouTube channel, the President said that during the East Asia Summit, leaders were able to discuss the current regional and international issues.

“I reaffirmed that the Philippines is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes and called other countries to continue upholding freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” he said.

The President also said that he had urged other parties to practice “self-restraint and refrain from doing unilateral and assertive activities that could increase tensions and could lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations in the South China Sea.”

He said he was also able to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishido and US Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss how to strengthen cooperation in key areas of mutual interest.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit, the Philippines, the US and Japan forged a commitment to ensure the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region.

During the gala dinner hosted by Indonesia during the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits, President Marcos, Harris and Kishida discussed the situation in the South China Sea.

The meeting paved the way for the three leaders to review means to “enhance trilateral maritime cooperation, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts,” the White House said in its readout.

The Foreign Ministry of Japan said Marcos, Harris and Kishida agreed “to jointly tackle unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force.”

While there was no mention of China in the readouts, Manila, Washington, and Tokyo recently launched a week-long trilateral naval drills off the Philippine waters to deter China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Japan, through its ambassador to the Philippines, also expressed the need to boost its military alliance with the Philippines and the US to realize its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” dream.


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