Philippines-China relations

Philippines: We’ve never agreed to China’s Ayungin proposals 

Bea Cupin

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Philippines: We’ve never agreed to China’s Ayungin proposals 

AYUNGIN MISSION. Chinese ships surround a Philippine Coast Guard ship on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on September 28, 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

Only the President can 'approve or authorize' agreements on the West Philippine Sea, says the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs

LAOAG CITY, Philippines – The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday, May 7, that no Cabinet-level official in the Marcos administration has agreed to “any Chinese proposal pertaining to the Ayungin Shoal.”

The statement comes a day after China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) repeated on Monday, May 6, a previous claim that had been debunked before: that Philippine defense and security officials supposedly “approved” a “new model” for rotation and resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

“The DFA wishes to emphasize that only the President of the Republic of the Philippines can approve or authorize agreements entered into by the Philippine Government on matters pertaining to the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea,” said the DFA.

“In this respect, the DFA can confirm that no Cabinet-level official of the Marcos Administration has agreed to any Chinese proposal pertaining to the Ayungin Shoal,” it added.

Ayungin Shoal is where the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era war ship, was purposefully run aground in 1999. It now serves as a military outpost in the area, amid China’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea. The shoal is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where it should enjoy sovereign rights.

China claims most of the South China Sea, including areas that are part of the Philippines’ EEZ.

Rotation and resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre have become fraught, especially in the past year. Under the Marcos administration, it has become the Philippines’ policy to expose China’s aggressive actions at sea.

The China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia routinely harass and block Philippine missions to Ayungin, even using water cannons in a bid to stop these missions.

Beijing – first, through its embassy in Manila and then through its MOFA – claimed that in early 2024, the Philippines and China agreed on a “new model.” MOFA spokesperson Lin Jian, in a press conference on May 6, said the agreement was made after “after multiple rounds of discussions through the diplomatic channel and AFP WESCOM.”

WESCOM refers to Western Command, or the Philippine military command that operates from Palawan and counts the BRP Sierra Madre as its outpost.

The core of Beijing’s newest claim on Ayungin Shoal is this: that the so-called “new model” was “approved by all key officials in the Philippine chain of command, including the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Advisor.”

Both Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro Jr., and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año have categorically denied all of China’s claims.

Rappler has learned that the DFA, when it summoned Chinese envoys, also raised the Chinese embassy’s claims on the supposed agreement on Ayungin Shoal.

“As far as the Philippine Government is concerned, no such document, record or deal exists, as purported by the Chinese Embassy,” the DFA said in its May 7 statement.

The Chinese embassy in Manila has claimed that “communication and negotiation on this subject matter is kept on record in every detail by the Chinese side” but has not made these public, despite requests from journalists for a copy these records. –

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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.