December 19, 2022
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — Personnel of the Western Command (Wescom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who conducted a resupply mission and were bringing Christmas packages to troops assigned at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal had another unpleasant encounter with the Chinese coast guard near the area at the West Philippine Sea.
A report from Wescom on Sunday revealed that the troops were again at the receiving end of radio challenges from the Chinese coast guard and were also shadowed by several other Chinese militia vessels as they were heading for Ayungin Shoal last Saturday.
The Chinese also warned Philippine troops not to bring construction materials, saying doing so “will be dealt with,” the report said.
According to the Wescom report, the Chinese Coast Guard said it was “allowing” the supplies to be delivered but also issued radio challenges claiming that the Philippines’ resupply vessel was inside the “jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China.”
Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands occupied by the Philippines, which formed part of Palawan province. The atoll in the Spratlys Island, located some 239 kilometers from Palawan, is being claimed by China as part of its territory.
China first warned the Wescom resupply mission team against bringing construction materials to Ayungin in April this year. After which, Chinese militia vessels and rubber boats deployed in the area blocked the passage to the entrance of Ayungin Shoal with nets and ropes.
The nets and ropes were removed last May but the Chinese coast guard, militia vessels and rubber boats remained in the area.
The Wescom said that the Philippine supply boats “responded to the radio challenge accordingly” and proceeded with the mission and planned route.
“We consider this as an encroachment on our territorial waters and violation of our sovereign rights,” Wescom spokesperson Maj. Cherryl Tindog said on Sunday.
No permission needed
Wescom commander Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, in a text message to the Inquirer on Sunday, said that the resupply mission team did not have to and “never requested permission to conduct resupply and other maritime operations in our territory and EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”
Carlos also reiterated the significance of the BRP Sierra Madre, serving as the nearest Philippine outpost to China’s military garrison on Mischief Reef. The former Philippine Navy vessel was intentionally run aground in Ayungin Shoal to serve as detachment of troops in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Mischief garrison is in our country’s exclusive economic zone and is China’s closest military facility to Palawan. That is why resupply missions are critical in maintaining our presence in Ayungin,” Carlos said.
“Whatever differences we have with China, in this particular case, their position on bringing construction materials during LS57 resupply mission, we intend to address through continuing dialogue and diplomacy,” he added.
This most recent resupply mission joined by the University of Perpetual Help System and the Naval Forces Reserve National Capital Region, who brought Christmas care packs for the crew of BRP Sierra Madre, was the 11th conducted by Wescom this year.