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China Demands Removal Of Phl Navy Ship From Ayungin, But DND Rejects It

China Demands Removal Of Phl Navy Ship From Ayungin, But DND Rejects It
This Reuters file photo shows, the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship used by the Philippine Marines as a military outpost, in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

China has demanded that the Philippines remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as Beijing justified anew the presence of Chinese troops near the grounded vessel.

At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Nov. 24, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed it was Manila’s “commitment” to remove the Sierra Madre from the shoal, which is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or EEZ.

Zhao reiterated that Ayungin Shoal, which China calls Ren’ai Jiao, is a Chinese territory, rejecting an arbitral tribunal 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines.

“Ren’ai Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Qundao. China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its grounded vessel on Ren’ai Jiao. This position remains unchanged,” Zhao said.

He argued that the “delivery of food and other supplies is a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations.”

“The China coast guard ship patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law and monitored from start to end the Philippine side’s supply delivery activities,” Zhao added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana refuted China’s claim on Thursday, Nov. 25, saying the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague ruled that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), and is within the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf.

“China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of. Furthermore, the arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis,” he said.

“We can do whatever we want there as it is they who are actually trespassing. We have two documents to prove that we have sovereign rights in our EEZ, while they have none. Their claim has no basis,” he added in English and Filipino.

Lorenzana, in another message, also stressed that there is no commitment on the part of the Philippine government to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin.

“That ship has been there since 1999. If there was commitment it would have been removed a long time ago,” the defense chief pointed out.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, Lorenzana said the Chinese coast guard ship deployed a rubber boat with three personnel on board to get near the Sierra Madre while the unloading of supplies from another Philippine vessel was ongoing.

Lorenzana later told Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian that the Chinese’ getting near the Sierra Madre while taking photos and videos was a form of “intimidation and harassment.”

Three Chinese Coast Guard vessels “blocked and water cannoned” on Nov. 16 two Philippine boats on their way to transport food supplies to military personnel manning the Sierra Madre.

The Philippines condemned in “strongest terms” the attack and warned Beijing’s “failure to exercise self-restraint threatens” Philippine-China relations.

The Philippines protested the incident and reminded China that “a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.”

No right to demand

Senators and presidential hopefuls also maintained on Thursday that China has no right to demand the removal of Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

“The 2016 arbitral ruling declared that Ayungin Shoal belongs to the Philippines and is well within our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” Sen. Grace Poe said.

“China has no right to dictate what we can do within our waters,” Poe pointed out. “Its recent statement telling us to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal is another display of utter arrogance and aggression that we must not take sitting down.”

Aside from diplomatic protests, Poe said the government should step up efforts in rallying the country’s neighbors to form a united front against China in the South China Sea. “Time and again, several nations have stood by us and shared our goal of ensuring peace, stability, and harmony,” she pointed out.

“Mutual respect must always be the cornerstone of our relationship with any nation,” she added.

Sen. Leila de Lima stressed that with China’s continued intransigence, the WPS Sea issue should be on the top five platforms of presidential and senatorial candidates in the 2022 polls.

Presidential aspirant and Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was doubtful the Philippine government had ever committed to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

“I don’t think there was an agreement and I couldn’t imagine the Philippine government, much less the Foreign Affairs department entering into an agreement that we will remove the Sierra Madre,” Lacson, who is also running for president, said.

Lacson said he and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, his running mate, have prepared a resolution condemning the recent action of China in the WPS.

He also said he has proposed P254.241 million to fund the enhancement of the facilities in Kalayaan Island Group in the WPS.

“This includes P10 million for a two-story dormitory building/marine facility and P28.509 million to purchase marine scientific and oceanographic equipment,” Lacson added.

“We walk the talk now. We will always walk the talk,” said Lacson, who visited Pag-asa Island last Nov. 20 in his capacity as chairman of the Senate’s defense committee.

Presidential hopeful and Vice President Leni Robredo reiterated her previous statement maintaining that there should be no debate on the issue of ownership.

Asked about China’s latest claim of sovereignty over Ayungin Shoal, Robredo said during a media interview in Cavite that “this is not subject to opinion because there is already a ruling… from the arbitral tribunal.”

“It is clear that it is part of our EEZ and that we have sovereign rights over this. The enjoyment of resources there should be exclusive for Filipinos,” she added.

Alluding to China, Sen. Joel Villanueva said trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order.

“Our ship has been there since 1999. To argue otherwise is to suffer from historical amnesia and geographical ignorance,” Villanueva added. “Sierra Madre, the ship, is a fixture as im-movable as Sierra Madre, the mountain range. Eventually, the sea will be BRP Sierra Madre’s final resting place. But no way should it be the graveyard of our sovereignty.”

For the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), China’s demand is simply unacceptable.

“These are the remarks of a bully. China has no legal authority to demand the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin which is part of the Philippines exclusive economic zone. We exercise sovereign rights over Ayungin and its waters,” Bayan said.

“It is China that needs to get out of the West Philippine Sea and our EEZ. It is China that needs to stop harassing Philippine ships traveling within our EEZ,” Bayan said.

“If there is indeed an ‘agreement’ on the part of the Philippine government to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin, it should be disclosed and those Philippine officials responsible be held accountable for treason,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Janvic Mateo, Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Rhodina Villanueva