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PH Has No Promise to Remove BRP Sierra Madre From Ayungin Shoal —Palace

The Philippine government has no promise of removing the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, a Palace official said on Wednesday.

“No such thing,” Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Atty. Cheloy Garafil told Palace reporters.

The National Security Council (NSC) also said that the current and previous administrations never made a commitment to China that they will remove the military vessel from Ayungin.

“Kahit sinong mapagtanungan natin under this administration or previous administrations wala po tayong naging commitment or anumang pangako sa pamahalaan ng Tsina na tatangalin natin ang BRP Sierra Madre sa Ayungin Shoal,” NSC spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said in a televised public briefing.

(Ask current and previous administrations. There was never a commitment or promise to the Chinese government that we would remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.)

“Wala pong meeting, wala pong kasulatan na nilagdaan ng dalawang bansa na meron tayong ganung usapan,” he added.

(There was neither a meeting nor any signed document about the supposed agreement.)

Malaya also challenged China to prove its claim.

“Kung meron palang ganun na may kasunduan, di ilabas niyo, di ba? Kasi, they are the ones that are making this claim, therefore it is their responsibility to back up their claim,” he said.

(If there was such an agreement, they should show proof.)

China’s claim

China has claimed that the Philippine government had earlier promised to remove the vessel in the Ayungin Shoal, which Beijing calls as Ren’ai Jiao.

The BRP Sierra Madre has been at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The ship, manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors, has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also said that the BRP Sierra Madre was a permanent military station tasked to “protect and secure Philippine rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea.”

“The deployment of a Philippine military station in its own areas of jurisdiction is an inherent right of the Philippines and does not violate any laws,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tess Daza said in a statement.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, has a different claim.

“In 1999, the Philippines sent a military vessel and deliberately ran it aground at Ren’ai Jiao, attempting to change the status quo of Ren’ai Jiao illegally… The Philippines promised several times to tow it away but has yet to act,” read a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ayungin is located 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Over the weekend, the Philippine Coast Guard said that the China Coast Guard made dangerous maneuvers and used water cannons against Philippine vessels resupplying food, water, fuel, and other supplies to military troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre.

note verbale was already sent to China following the incident, according to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

The President also said that the Philippine government will continue to assert its territorial rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Last month, China reiterated that it does not accept or recognize the Philippines’ South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal ruling from 2016, which concluded Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea was groundless.

Mutual Defense Treaty

On Wednesday, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and United States Defense chief Lloyd Austin III discussed in a phone call the recent incident in the West Philippine Sea, with the US official condemning it.

The Pentagon said the two defense officials reiterated their commitment to sustain the rules-based order and support the Philippines’ right to hold lawful maritime activities in line with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling, which is “final and binding on all parties.”

Austin reiterated that the Mutual Defense Treaty covers Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces including its coast guard assets in the Pacific including in the South China Sea.

Under the MDT, the two countries agreed that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either the Philippines or the US would be dangerous and that they would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Open to dialogue

The Chinese embassy has also issued a new statement on Wednesday, saying it is open to continue dialogue and consultation with the Philippines about maritime issues following the recent incident at the Ayungin Shoal.

“China stands ready to continue to properly handle maritime issues with the Philippines through dialogue and consultation,” the Chinese embassy said.

“With a view to upholding maritime stability, we hope that the Philippines will meet China halfway and make joint efforts to start negotiation on above initiatives soon,” the embassy added.

The Chinese embassy also reiterated that Ren’ai Jiao is part of China and called out the Philippines “for seeking to overhaul and reinforce the military vessel” to permanently occupy the area.

It also called out the United States for supposedly supporting the Philippines in rebuilding BRP Sierra Madre and supposedly sensationalizing the issue.

“The US even sent over military aircraft and vessels to assist and support the Philippines, and repeatedly sought to threaten China by citing the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” it said. 

Source : GMA