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BRP Sierra Madre remains as PHL outpost in Ayungin Shoal despite sorry state

March 22, 2014 12:23am

The government has spoken: the Philippine Navy's BRP Sierra Madre will remain as the country's an outpost on the Ayungin Shoal, despite the sorry state of the grounded vessel, which has been in the disputed area since 1999.

According to a file video shown by GMA News' late night program “Saksi” on Thursday, the Sierra Madre, was looking battered, rusty and seemingly unfit to be a war ship, as early as 2002.

It was in August of 2002 when a few chosen journalists, including GMA News' Cesar Apolinario, were first allowed to visit the grounded ship.

“Matapos ang tatlong taong pananatili sa Ayungin Shoal, nang bisitahin namin ito noong 2002, kapansin-pansin ang mga pagbabago sa barko. Sa deck unti-unti na itong kinakalawang, kapansin-pansin ang pagkalat ng kalawang sa iba pang bahagi ng barko,” Apolinario reported.

“Malayong malayo kumpara sa gusali at high-tech na mga kagamitan ng China sa Mischief Reef... sa BRP Sierra Madre, lumang baterya ang gamit at maliit na satellite dish para sa linya ng telepono,” Apolinario added.

In a video recently taken of BRP Sierra Madre by GMA News, the old vessel looks almost entirely covered in rust.

“Labing isang taon matapos ang pagbisita namin sa BRP Sierra Madre, eto na ang itsura ng barko, puno ng kalawang, tadtad ng butas at tila hindi na maisasabak sa giyera,” Apolinario reported.

According to some Navy personnel interviewed by Apolinario in 2002, the grounding of BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 was an accident.

However, just recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement that the vessel was purposely placed on Ayungin Shoal to serve as a permanent military outpost in response to a structure built by China on Mischief Reef in 1995.

It was the first time that the Philippine government has openly admitted that the vessel was placed intentionally on the shoal to thwart Chinese incursions.

In the same statement, the DFA said the government was not inclined to pull out the old ship despite a contradictory claim by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Qin Gang, that the Philippines had agreed to to do so.

"A Philippine ship illegally 'grounded' on the Ren'ai Reef of China's Nansha Islands in 1999, with the excuse of 'malfunction.' China made representations right away to the Philippine side who then made unequivocal commitment to towing away the ship," Qin said in a statement.

The Ayungin Shoal (also known as Second Thomas Reef) and the Mischief Reef (claimed by the Philippine as Panganiban Reef) both lie in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine government claims that Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef both lie within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the country under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

On March 9, Chinese Coast Guard blocked and expelled two Philippine civilian vessels contracted by the Philippine Navy to bring supply to its seven-man team stationed in BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

The expulsion incident came days after Chinese Coast Guard attacked fishermen in Bajo De Masinloc also known as Panatag Shoal with water canon last January 27. Chinese government claimed that the Filipino fishermen “provoked” the Chinese Coast Guard.

Both incidents prompted Philippine government to file separate diplomatic protests against China before the UN international tribunal. Elizabeth Marcelo/DVM, GMA News
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