The Philippines on Thursday rejected China’s demand that it remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre ship from the Ayungin Shoal, saying it was the Chinese who were trespassers in the West Philippine Sea.
The statement came after China demanded the Philippine government "honor its commitment" and remove the grounded ship, which is used by Philippine marines stationed there.
"As far as I know there is no such commitment. That ship has beenthere since 1999. If there was (a) commitment it would have been removed a long time ago," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
He underscored that Ayungin Shoal lies within the Philippines'exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where it has sovereign rights.
"Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of," he said in a Facebook post.
"Furthermore, the 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing," he added.
The Defense chief said Manila has two documents to prove that it has sovereign rights in this EEZ while Beijing has none.
“They don't have this and their claim doesn't have a basis," he said.
The 2016 Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS had ruled that the Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile EEZ and continental shelf, a decision recognized by the international community, including the United States, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, and the European Union.
In a separate message to reporters, Lorenzana said the resupply boats left Ayungin Shoal on Tuesday after completing their mission.
"The resupply boats left (BRP) Sierra Madre the same day after unloading their cargoes and personnel. They also brought out personnel going home on R&R (rest and recreation). As of now, (the) situation there is calm and normal," he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday night insisted that the Ayungin Shoal is part of China’s waters and said the resumption of Manila's resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre was "a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations."
He also said the Chinese coast guard was doing its job to patrol and monitor activities in the area.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, branded these latest Chinese remarks as mere "wolf warrior" release—referring to the aggressive style of diplomacy adopted by Chinese diplomats under President Xi Jinping's administration.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. emphasized that China has "no law enforcement rights” in and around the Ayungin Shoal.
In a press conference in Beijing, Lijian justified Chinese troops being near the BRP Sierra Madre, after Lorenzana complained of their "intimidation and harassment" during the resupply mission.
Zhao said the Chinese coast guard ship “patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law” as it monitored the resupply mission.
A party-list legislator on Thursday denounced China’s demand that the Philippines remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal based on some commitment, calling it “absurd.”
"We need to ask if, in fact, there was a commitment made to remove BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal and who made such a commitment on behalf of the Philippines," said Magdalo Rep. Manuel Cabotchan III.
"The claim of China that there is supposed commitment made should be clarified because it is evident that the Philippines solely has sovereign rights in the Ayungin Shoal. The Philippines has a legal basis according to the UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitration ruling," he added.
Cabotchan continued: "We are not obliged to seek permission for our actions in the Ayungin Shoal from China or anyone else. Ayungin Shoal is ours. If there is a trespasser there, it is China.”
Senator Grace Poe said China had no right to dictate what the Philippines can do within its own waters.
She said China's recent statement telling the Philippines to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal is “another display of utter arrogance and aggression that we must not take sitting down.”
Aside from diplomatic protests, she said the government should step up efforts to rally the country’s neighbors to form a united front against China in the South China Sea.
"Time and again, several nations have stood by us and shared our goal of ensuring peace, stability and harmony," said Poe.
She said respect must always be the cornerstone of the country’s relationship with any nation.
She cited the 2016 arbitral ruling which declared that Ayungin Shoal belongs to the Philippines and is well within the country’s EEZ and continental shelf.
Senator Joel Villanueva said trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order.
He maintained that Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf that is 104 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of Palawan and thus within our country’s 200-nautical mile EEZ under UNCLOS.
"Our ship has been there since 1999. To argue otherwise is to suffer from historical amnesia and geographical ignorance," he said.
He said Sierra Madre, the ship, is a fixture as immovable as Sierra Madre, the mountain range.
"Eventually, the sea will be BRP Sierra Madre’s final resting place.
But no way should it be the graveyard of our sovereignty," he added.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said there was no commitment to remove the BRP Sierra Madre.
“BRP Sierra Madre serves an important role as an outpost in Ayungin Shoal for our soldiers to defend against the illegal and oppressive incursions of Chinese forces in the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a statement.
“BRP Sierra Madre is a public vessel of the Philippines that is protected by Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. If China attacks BRP Sierra Madre and our armed forces in Ayungin Shoal, such action would trigger the mutual defense commitments under the treaty where the US and the Philippines will act ‘to meet [such] common danger’ instigated by China,” he said.
The Philippines has every right to station BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal under the UNCLOS and affirmed by the 2016 arbitral award, he said.
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