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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Friday, February 2, completed a rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, its makeshift military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.
The completed mission was confirmed in a post on X, formerly Twitter, by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Colonel Francel Padilla.
Padilla, in a tweet that’s since been deleted, said: “Mission accomplished! Today, we executed a flawless rotation and resupply operation for BRP Sierra Madre. Teamwork, precision, and dedication at its best.”
It was the first completed resupply by sea in 2024 following a bilateral meeting between the Philippines and China, wherein both sides agreed to improve the use of a communication mechanism to avoid untoward incidents at sea.
“The Philippines’ resupply of BRP Sierra Madre at 2nd Thomas Shoal today seems to have encountered virtually no resistance from China,” noted maritime defense expert Ray Powell, who is also Project Myoushu Team Lead of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.
China earlier claimed that it “allowed” an air drop of supplies to the Sierra Madre, but the AFP has refused to confirm or deny that supplies were delivered through air.
Ayungin Shoal is a feature well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within the South China Sea, referred to as the West Philippine Sea. The BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era warship that was purposefully ran aground in 1999, serves as the Philippine military outpost there.
China claims practically the entire South China Sea, and sees resupply missions as violations of its sovereignty. Beijing has also refused to recognize a 2016 Arbitral Ruling that sided with the Philippines and deemed its sweeping claim of the South China Sea as invalid.
At least once a month, the Philippines conducts rotation and resupply missions to Ayungin to rotate troops who are stationed there for months at a time, and to bring supplies for their daily needs.
What would have been the first mission of 2024 was scrapped due to a “technical difficulty” in one of the supply ships that required minor repairs.
Missions in the latter part of 2023 were tense and, often, precarious because of harassment from the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia. Navy-contracted ships, escorted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), would have to weave through Chinese ships to bring supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre.
CCG ships in the past had subjected Philippines vessels to harassment, shadowing, and watercannoning. Collision incidents have also been reported by Philippine authorities.
The Philippines put a spotlight on China’s “gray zone” behavior through its transparency initiative by releasing videos and photos of China’s actions, and embedding Philippine journalists in PCG vessels.
The AFP did not give any other details about the mission as of posting. – Rappler.com