The Philippines is ready to defend its position should China resort to forcefully removing the BRP Sierra Madre moored at the Ayungin Shoal, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.
At the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City, AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar clarified that while such a scenario is purely “speculative,” the Philippine military “of course, we will resist.”
This comes after the China Coast Guard (CCG) used water cannons against the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) vessels going to Ayungin Shoal for a resupply mission at the BRP Sierra Madre.
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director Jay Batongbacal said the Philippines’ resistance “would be based on rules of engagement.”
“A response to a hostile act depends on the rules of engagement,” Batongbacal said.
China however urged the Philippines to work with it to seek an effective way to defuse tensions in the South China Sea, Xinhua news agency reported, according to Reuters.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments while on a visit to Singapore and Malaysia.
Beijing claimed that the Philippine ships intruded into the Ayungin Shoal, which it said is part of its territory, and violated China's laws during the conduct of the resupply mission.
China also claimed that the Philippines promised to remove the vessel.
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. however denied that the Philippine government had promised China to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.
“I’m not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory its ship, in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal... and let me go further, if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now,” Marcos said on Wednesday.
Batongbacal criticized China’s claim on the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre, calling it a tactic Beijing was using to confuse Manila and make it doubt its position.
Beijing’s claim was “definitely a lie,” said the maritime law expert.
“That is what you call gaslighting,” he added. “Hindi mo alam kung totoo o hindi kaya nagdududa ka sa sarili mong posisyon.”
The Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.
China should behave
“Now, the President has already made a statement about this particular issue. He will not abandon the Ayungin Shoal. Therefore, we have to implement that,” Aguilar said.
The AFP official also said that the military will continue its resupply missions to its troops stationed at the Ayungin Shoal.
“Let me also say this, the China Coast Guard should behave. They should not resort to actions that are hostile, that are in violation of the international law that could endanger people’s lives because all the consequences that will arise from their singular hostile act will be blamed to them and to those above them,” Aguilar said.
Philippine lawmakers condemned the August 5 incident, and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri urged Marcos to bring the issue before the international community.
The US, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the European Union have also decried the event, restating their support for the 2016 arbitral ruling.
This is not the first time that Chinese vessels have used water cannons against Philippine ships, or targeted resupply missions to the Sierra Madre, a rusting Navy ship that has been moored at Ayungin Shoal since 1999.
In 2016, the Philippines triumphed in a landmark ruling by an international tribunal that invalidated China's massive claims to nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, or the waters within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China has refused to recognize the ruling, and has made repeated incursions into territories in the sea as well as conducted reclamation activities in the area. —VAL/KG, GMA Integrated News