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MANILA, Philippines – General Romeo Brawner Jr., Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), witnessed firsthand harassment at the hands of Chinese maritime forces in the West Philippine Sea. Brawner was part of a military resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, over 100 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan.
On Sunday, December 10, Brawner joined a routine resupply mission that was met with harassment – including water cannons – en route to the shoal.
“Noong binangga, noong winater cannon kami, mga ilang beses silang dumaan sa harap namin… tapos gusto pa kaming atrasan nung [China Coast Guard], wala talaga,” he said in a media interview on Monday, December 11.
(When we were rammed, water cannoned, they passed in front of us several times. And the China Coast Guard seemed to want to back up against us.)
Brawner was joined by Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, Commander of the Western Command, as well as other AFP officials during the visit. The top AFP officials shared a meal – an early Noche Buena – with troops stationed on board the BRP Sierra Madre.
The AFP chief first travelled via a Navy vessel before transferring to the Unaizah May 1, one of the military-contracted supply ships to Ayungin Shoal.
The Unaizah May 1, the ML Kalayaan, and even a Philippine Coast Guard vessel that escorted the supply ships were subject to water cannoning from the China Coast Guard. The Kalayaan had to turn back after sustaining engine damage, but the Unaizah May 1, with Brawner on board, made it past China’s harassment and blocking attempts.
According to the AFP, Brawner is the first AFP chief to make it to the Sierra Madre.
Brawner said he earlier got clearance from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to make the visit and to join a resupply mission.
A handful of soldiers hold watch at the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II warship which the Philippines ran aground on purpose in 1999 after China put up an outpost in nearby Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef).
It’s become a flashpoint for tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
Resupply missions, in particular, have grown more tense, with instances of water cannon firing and collisions at sea. – Rappler.com