West Philippine Sea

After ‘brutal attack’ in Ayungin, PH maritime council wants resupply mission announced

Bea Cupin

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After ‘brutal attack’ in Ayungin, PH maritime council wants resupply mission announced

CHINESE HARASSMENT. The China Coast Guard brandishes weapons, uses sirens, and threatens Filipino soldiers already moored alongside the BRP Sierra Madre during a June 17, 2024 resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal.

Armed Forces of the Philippines

(1st UPDATE) Despite the China Coast Guard’s ‘brutal attack’ on soldiers moored beside the BRP Sierra Madre, the Mutual Defense Treaty ‘has not been considered’ in discussions of the National Maritime Council 

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ newly-established National Maritime Council (NMC) announced Friday, June 21, that it has recommended to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the “announcement” of resupply missions to Ayungin or Second Thomas Shoal, a flashpoint for tensions between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea. 

“As a result of the meeting today, the Council agreed on policy recommendations for the President’s consideration. Among these recommendations is the announcement of the rotation and reprovisioning missions (RORE) to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, which will remain routine and will be scheduled regularly,” said Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, who chairs the NMC, during a surprise press conference late Friday afternoon. 

The council, which replaced the National Coast Watch Council, met for the second time since its inception on June 21, over five days after the China Coast Guard (CCG) disrupted a RORE mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting warship that serves as a Filipino military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

CCG personnel rammed the rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) of Naval Special Operations Command personnel, all while brandishing knives and bladed weapons before Filipino soldiers already moored beside the grounded warship. 

One soldier lost his thumb after it got stuck between the Philippines’ RHIB and China’s vessels during the melee. 

Asked how different the Philippines’ policy would be when it comes to the RORE mission, Bersamin said: “We just don’t know that… if the reason for this is [that] there was no prior knowledge on the part of China that we were resupplying. They knew that we had to resupply, that we were resupplying.”

“It’s just a normal, routinary matter. So in the best in the best interest of, uh, all parties, I think…  it was a wise decision for the President to accept our recommendation to publicize the schedule activities without giving up anything. There’s nothing wrong about that.” 

After ‘brutal attack’ in Ayungin, PH maritime council wants resupply mission announced

RORE missions to bring supplies and a fresh batch of troops to the BRP Sierra Madre, take place almost monthly, barring bad weather. The specific dates for the missions are typically a tightly-kept secret, with only select military and security officials, including those from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Western Command, and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in the know. Media who embed in these missions aboard PCG vessels are asked not to make prior announcements. 

Neither Bersamin nor Presidential Adviser on Maritime Affairs Andres Centino detailed how the Philippines would “announce” or “publicize” the RORE missions. Follow-up questions during the press conference were limited.

In a release to the media, the Palace said announcements would be “made before RORE missions are conducted.”

While Bersamin said that the President “accepted” the recommendation, Centino said they were “awaiting for the guidance of the President” on the recommendations they submitted. 

Ayungin Shoal is a feature located just over 100 nautical miles away from mainland Palawan – which means it is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). But Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, including the Philippines’ EEZ. At the same time, Beijing rejects a 2016 Arbitral Award that deemed China’s claim invalid and affirmed Manila’s EEZ as defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  

Manila refers to parts of the South China Sea, including its EEZ, as the West Philippine Sea. 

No MDT yet 

Details of the June 17 were initially scant, with the full extent of China’s harassment only divulged publicly by the Philippines on June 19, when AFP chief General Romeo Brawner, Jr. visited the Western Command in Palawan.  

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in releasing Philippine footage of the melee, called it a “brutal attack.” But Bersamin on Friday said it was “probably a misunderstanding or an accident.”

“We are not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack. What we saw were some bolos, axe. Nothing beyond that,” he added. 

Terms are important. In order to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with treaty-ally the United States, an “armed attack” should happen against the Philippines. CCG used bladed weapons, sticks, tear gas, and sirens during their harassment. They also took the disassembled rifles of the Navy, meant to replenish supplies on the BRP Sierra Madre. 

Brawner has demanded that China return the rifles and pay for the damage they caused to the Navy’s RHIBs. The CCG punctured the tube of the RHIB and destroyed navigation and communication equipment on board. 

But Centino said the MDT “has not been considered in our discussions.” 

Marcos had previously said the death of a Filipino would be his “red line” in invoking the MDT. 

Bersamin thumbed down bringing discussions of tensions to a “higher international body.” “That’s not yet in consideration because I think this is a matter that can easily be resolved very soon by us. So, if China wants to work with us, we can work with China,” he said, responding to a question in the news conference. 

A Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) meeting has been in the works since early May 2024, following a February 2024 meeting in Shanghai. No date has been confirmed for the BCM, a platform for the two countries to discuss issues concerning the South China Sea. – Rappler.com 

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Can you notice the contrast? AFP described it as a “brutal attack,” while ES Lucas Bersamin suggested it was “probably a misunderstanding or an accident.” What are the implications of this disparity?

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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.