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DFA on China WPS claims: No agreement to violate

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday dismissed China’s accusations the Philippines violated a supposed agreement when it conducted a routine resupply (RORE) mission at the Ayungin Shoal, saying such an agreement does not exist. 

In the joint report of JP Soriano and Chino Gaston on 24 Oras, DFA Spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza clarified the Philippines did not enter into any agreement with China related to the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“China has made references to supposed arrangements or agreements out of these discussions. The Philippine has not entered into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights or jurisdiction over its EEZ and continental shelf including in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal,” said Daza.

Jonathan Malaya, Assistant Director General of the National Security Council added, "(China) referred to an alleged promise by the Philippines regarding the BRP Sierra Madre a claim that has not been supported by any shred of evidence and has been debunked a million. In Filipino we refer to it na parang sirang plaka, paulit ulit wala naman nainiwala sa kanila (They sound like a broken record that keeps repeating but no one believes them.)"

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Tuesday said four Filipinos sustained injuries after two China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels water cannoned a Philippine boat on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

The injured Filipino personnel were treated by the crew of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel BRP Sindangan, which collided with one of the CCG vessels less than two hours earlier.

CCG vessel 21555 performed dangerous blocking maneuvers against BRP Sindangan that led to a minor collision. The incident was recorded at 6:32 a.m., according to the NTF-WPS.

The BRP Sindangan sustained "superficial structural damage," the task force said.

At 8:15 a.m., another CCG vessel "caused a minor collision" with Unaizah May 4 "due to its dangerous blocking maneuvers," the task force said.

Two Chinese ships, CCG vessels 21555 and 21551, simultaneously fired water cannons against Unaizah May 4.

Due to the damage of the vessel and the injuries to its crew, Unaizah May 4 returned to mainland Palawan escorted by BRP Sindangan.

At 9:30 a.m., Unaizah May 1 successfully reached BRP Sierra Madre and started its resupply. Its mission completed, the vessel left the grounded tank landing ship at 10:45 a.m.

Several countries including US and Japan expressed concern over the incident, with Washington saying the dangerous maneuvers at the shoal "endangered lives, resulted in injuries, and damaged Philippine Coast Guard vessels in the Philippine exclusive economic zone."

The US State Department likewise said it is ready to defend Filipino troops against armed attacks on the ships, planes , and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine Coast Guard in accordance to the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Asked if the incident can be considered an “armed attack”, US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said,  “I’m not going to speculate or get out ahead of any discussion  in this regard”.

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

Ayungin is located 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The DFA earlier said it  summoned China's deputy ambassador to protest the aggressive and dangerous moves undertaken by the CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia.

However, the  Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said it lodged representations with the DFA where it '"expressed strong protests over the illegal trespassing" on Ayungin Shoal (Ren’ai Jiao) by Philippine vessels.

“China has a lot of narratives so we must be careful… They’re not in their EEZ. There's a big distance away from their EEZ. They are in our EEZ and because of that, it is us who will determine in our EEZ,” said Daza.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, for his part, suggested the establishing of a lighthouse at the Ayungin Shoal, which China may likely oppose.

“Hihintuin tayo ng China eh, then we go the tribunal because under the UNCLOS, we have exclusive right because that's our EEZ to manage the fisheries there, to manage the natural resources there, to preserve the resources and to conduct scientific studies,” said Carpio.

(China will stop us. When that happens, we can go the tribunal because under the UNCLOS, we have exclusive right because that's our EEZ to manage the fisheries there, to manage the natural resources there, to preserve the resources and to conduct scientific studies.)—Sundy Locus/RF, GMA Integrated News