West Philippine Sea

Philippines says China ‘imagining’ special arrangement in Ayungin

Bea Cupin

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Philippines says China ‘imagining’ special arrangement in Ayungin

RUSTY. The BRP Sierra Madre, used as a military outpost, is marooned in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, March 2014.

Erik de Castro/Reuters

(1st UPDATE) China earlier claimed a 'temporary special arrangement' made it possible to bring supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre

MANILA, Philippines – National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya on Monday, January 29, denied China’s belated claim that it made a “temporary special arrangement” to allow the delivery of supplies for troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in the West Philippine Sea. 

Malaya, speaking on state-run PTV4’s Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon, said he was “surprised” by the China Coast Guard (CCG) statement on the supposed delivery of supplies to the military outpost in Ayungin Shoal by air. 

“This is a figment of the imagination of the China Coast Guard,” he added. 

China, through its coast guard, claimed late January 27 that it had “allowed” the delivery of supplies to the rusty BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II ship that serves as the Philippines’ outpost in the shoal. 

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The CCG also claimed that it made “temporary special arrangements” to allow the delivery of goods for soldiers stationed there. 

Ayungin Shoal is a feature located within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which means it should have exclusive access to the resources within 200 nautical miles beyond its territorial sea. 

But China claims Ayungin as part of its territory, and considers the BRP Sierra Madre an “illegally beached warship.” 

The Philippines’ first attempt to bring both supplies and troops to the Sierra Madre in 2024 was thwarted by a “technical difficulty” that required repairs to the indigenous boat that it uses for these missions. 

The Philippines has, thus far, refused to confirm nor deny that an airdrop occurred, even as supposed video and photos of the air mission made the rounds on social media. 

The military earlier said airdrops were an option to bring supplies to Ayungin, but did not say it happened on January 21. 

According to a Reuters report Sunday, a statement by the Chinese Coast Guard on its official WeChat account said it had allowed necessary supplies, but also that it would resolutely defend China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests at the Second Thomas Shoal and its adjacent waters.

“On Jan. 21, a small aircraft from the Philippines airdropped supplies to the illegally beached warship,” the WeChat statement said.

“The Chinese coastguard has followed up and monitored the situation in real time, controlled and dealt with it in accordance with laws and regulations, and made temporary special arrangements for the Philippines to replenish necessary daily supplies,” it added.

The Reuters article added that the CGG WeChat message said the “relevant parties” in the Philippines had deliberately misled international opinion and ignored the facts, and that was not conducive to easing tension in the South China Sea.

China claims practically all of the South China Sea as its own, in defiance of international rules and norms. A 2016 Arbitral Award ruled that its sweeping 9-dash – now 10-dash – line was invalid. China has refused to acknowledge this. 

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea within the Philippine EEZ,  have risen in recent months, with precarious resupply missions to Ayungin becoming almost a norm. 

Both China and the Philippines have agreed to improve communications mechanisms to avoid untoward incidents in those waters, where up to a third of the world’s trade passes through annually. – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

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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.