West Philippine Sea

China blocked evacuation of injured soldier from Ayungin Shoal 

Bea Cupin

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China blocked evacuation of injured soldier from Ayungin Shoal 

NAVSOG. Philippine Navy serviceman Seaman First Class Underwater Operator Jeffrey Facundo speaks the Committee on Foreign Relations and relates before the senators the collision between a Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Filipino vessel performing rotation and resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal last June 17. Facundo’s right thumb was severed during the incident.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

During a Senate hearing on the June 17 incident, the soldier who was injured from China’s ramming says the China Coast Guard also punctured a rubber boat used for a medical evacuation

MANILA, Philippines – Even until the very end – as Filipino soldiers were trying to evacuate a severely injured comrade from Ayungin Shoal to mainland Palawan – personnel of the China Coast Guard (CCG) blocked and harassed Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea.

China blocked evacuation of injured soldier from Ayungin Shoal 

The disclosure was made by the injured soldier himself, Seaman First Class Underwater Operator Jeffrey Facundo, during a Senate probe into the incident on Tuesday, June 25.

Facundo lost his right thumb when the CCG stopped a June 17 military resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. The soldier, a member of the elite Naval Special Operations Command (NAVSOCOM or NAVSOG), was injured when the CCG rammed the Philippine Navy’s rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) at high-speed. His thumb was hit by the bow of the Chinese vessel.

China blocked evacuation of injured soldier from Ayungin Shoal 

The incident is the most violent case of harassment by China in the West Philippine Sea to date. While only Facundo was injured from the encounter, the Philippine Navy’s RHIBs and equipment were permanently damaged by the CCG on purpose. The Chinese also stole seven disassembled rifles belonging to the Philippine Navy.

Facundo said that they had arrived inside the lagoon of the shoal at around 6 am on June 17. The CCG arrived within minutes.

Chaos then erupted – the CCG tried to stop the resupply mission by hitting the Philippine RHIBs and attempting to tow one of the RHIBs.

CCG personnel eventually succeeded, towing the RHIBs as far away as Sabina Shoal, over 30 nautical miles away from Ayungin Shoal. The Chinese boarded the Philippine RHIBs, destroyed communication and navigation equipment, and seized disassembled arms of the soldiers.

The whole time, Facundo and two of his comrades went aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, waiting for the chaos to subside so they could begin their medical evacuation.

China blocked evacuation of injured soldier from Ayungin Shoal 

“When the two RHIBs were towed away from Ayungin, we attempted a medical evacuation via rubber boat. About 1 nautical mile away from the BRP Sierra Madre, the CCG punctured our rubber boat. We had to go back because there was a hole and it was going to sink,” recalled Facundo.

They tried again, at around 11 pm on June 17, said Facundo. They were eventually able to reach a waiting Philippine Coast Guard ship some 20 nautical miles away from the shoal.

While resupply missions to the shoal are always tense, the June 17 was the closest the CCG has gotten to the BRP Sierra Madre and the first time its personnel boarded Philippine military vessels.

Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro called it a “deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” just days after Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin called it “probably a misunderstanding or accident.”

The BRP Sierra Madre is a World War II-era warship that was run aground in Ayungin Shoal in 1999, in response to China’s expansion in nearby Mischief Reef.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite a 2016 Arbitral Ruling that deemed their claim illegal and affirmed the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Ayungin Shoal, located just over 100 nautical miles off mainland Palawan, is well within the Philippines’ EEZ. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    “Why doesn’t the Marcos Government consider this an ‘armed attack’? What criteria are they using? Don’t the Filipino people have the right to know why they aren’t labeling this as an armed attack, providing a detailed explanation, and citing the sources they’re using?”

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.