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MANILA, Philippines – Weeks after Chinese ships harassed, blocked, and fired water cannons at Philippine vessels, the Philippine military and coast guard finally finished bringing much-needed supplies to Philippine Marines stationed at the grounded BRP Sierra Made in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday, August 22.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement that the mission was carried out despite attempts by the “China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia to block, harass, and interfere” with the supply mission.
In the same press statement, the task force said “Philippine Navy vessels were also on standby during the mission.”
“The [task force]…commends the unfailing valor, determination, and professionalism exhibited by the men and women of our armed forces and coast guard. The Filipino people owe them a debt of gratitude, for their commitment to place their lives on the line to defend our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction throughout the expense of the [West Philippine Sea],” it said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said that it sent the BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan to support the resupply ships commissioned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“Coast Guard Admiral Artemio Abu, the PCG Commandant, noted that collaborative efforts and unity of purpose with the AFP strongly demonstrate our government’s determination to assert our sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea,” the PCG said in a statement.
“The PCG will continue to fulfill its obligations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2016 Arbitral Ruling, COLREGS and other relevant international instruments on maritime safety and security, and calls on all parties to cease illegal activities in the maritime zones of the Philippines,” it added.
Based on publicly available data culled by Sealight, a project dedicated to monitoring China’s “gray zone” activities in the South China Sea, at least four Chinese ships, based on Sealight’s monitoring, were in “blocking positions” around Ayungin Shoal. More ships were potentially in the area, since Chinese vessels have been known to “go dark” on the automatic identification system, contrary to international norms.
China’s Coast Guard said in a statement it “made temporary arrangements” for Manila to deliver food and necessities to the atoll, which it also claims, on humanitarian grounds.
On August 5, AFP’s commissioned ships, escorted by PCG vessels, had tried to bring supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, a ship aground on Ayungin Shoal. The ship serves as the Philippine outpost in the area, and is manned by a small team of Marines. Resupply missions are critical – aside from providing the Marines’ basic needs, the World war 2-era Sierra Madre is constantly in dire need of repair.
The incident prompted the Philippines to issue a note verbale to China. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who earlier promised a “maturing” of Sino-Philippine ties, denied Beijing’s claims that the Philippines had promised to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin.
The AFP earlier cautioned Chinese forces to “not interfere” with the Philippines’ planned resupply mission.
China’s actions reaped criticism from the international community, with Washington, through the State Department, reiterating in a statement that attacks on Philippine vessels could be the basis for invoking the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com