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New resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal successful —WPS task force

The Philippines' follow-up mission to bring supplies to personnel manning a grounded vessel in Ayungin Shoal on Tuesday has been successful, according to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

"The routine follow-up Rotation and Resupply (RoRe) mission to the BRP SIERRA MADRE (LS 57) was successfully conducted today, August 22, through the combined efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard," the NTF WPS said in a statement.

"This latest RoRe mission was able to deliver fresh provisions to our military personnel stationed on board BRP SIERRA MADRE," it added.

BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded 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.

Earlier in the day, former US Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché Ray Powell, a maritime security expert, bared that China has deployed four militia ships from Mischief Reef to "take up blockade positions" as the Philippine ships were on their way to the shoal.

Powell said the Philippine mission was escorted by Philippine Coast Guard vessels BRP Cabra and BRP Sindangan. 

The NTF-WPS said supply ships Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 2 performed the mission.

“Notwithstanding attempts by China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels to block, harass, and interfere with the supply mission, the Philippine supply ships Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 2, escorted by PCG vessels BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407), successfully completed their RoRe mission,” the task force said.

In his prayer during the opening of the day's session, Senator Francis Tolentino said the Philippine fleet safely arrived in Ayungin Shoal at 9:07 a.m.

“We also thank you Lord for guiding and safely allowing our resupply ships -- to enter the Ayungin Shoal today at 9:07 a.m. safely to provide food and medicine for our brave soldiers despite the threats coming from several foreign ships,” Tolentino said.

On August 5, the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons against the Philippine Coast Guard fleet that was on a resupply mission to Filipino troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal.

Several countries  — led by the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada — expressed support for Manila and criticized China's actions, the latest in the string of several reported incidents of harassment against Philippine vessels this year. 

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 has objected to the resupply missions, saying the Philippines is "transporting construction materials" to the grounded ship "with the intent of permanently occupying" the shoal.

Beijing is claiming Ayungin Shoal, which it calls Ren'ai Jiao, is part of its territory in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has dismissed China's demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal, saying the grounded ship is a permanent military station tasked to "protect and secure Philippine rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea."

No less than President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has denied that the government had promised China to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. He also said that he is rescinding any commitment should there really be an existing agreement between the Philippines and China on the removal of the vessel. 

The NTF WPS, in its statement,  said the routine missions to Philippine outposts on various features in the West Philippine Sea will continue on a regular basis.

It pointed out that the missions are part of the Philippine government’s legitimate exercise of its administrative functions over the WPS, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2016 Arbitral Award, and domestic laws.

After the accomplished mission, the NTF WPS commended the efforts of the Philippine Coast Guard and Armed Forces of the Philippines to defend the country’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the WPS. —with Joviland Rita and Hana Bordey/KBK, GMA Integrated News