MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines yesterday hit back at China for alleging Manila had agreed to pull out the grounded ship guarding the disputed Ayungin Shoal in the Spratlys.
“The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine naval vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. This was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
“The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” he stressed.
Ayungin Shoal, internationally known as Second Thomas Shoal, is located 108 nautical miles from Palawan and only 13 nautical miles southeast of Mischief Reef, where China has already erected military structures.
The disputed shoal is also called Ren’ai Reef by the Chinese.
The Philippines protested on Tuesday China’s actions when its coast guard vessels drove away the two Philippine ships from Ayungin Shoal.
China accused the Philippines of sending two ships to transport construction materials to the Ayungin Shoal, with the aim of building facilities and “maintaining a presence” there.
“The two Philippine ships were loaded with concrete and rebar rather than food. Is concrete and rebar edible?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said.
The DFA summoned Chinese charge d’affaires Sun Xiangyang to hand over a note verbale to express the government’s objection to China’s actions last March 9.
The Philippines also urged China to desist from any further interference with the efforts of the Philippines to undertake rotation and resupply operations at Ayungin Shoal.
A security official maintained that the Philippine boats blocked by the Chinese Coast Guard were carrying food supplies and not construction materials as claimed by China.
“As far as I am aware, there was none (construction materials). They (boats) only carried foodstuff and water,” said the official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk on the issue.
“But then again, the issue there is the blocking of our ships in our waters,” the official added.
The US said the Philippines had maintained its presence at Ayungin Shoal since 1999.
US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki and Charge d’Affaires Brian Goldbeck of the US embassy in Manila said Wednesday that China’s action in Ayungin Shoal “is a provocative move that raises tensions” and that “pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo.”
China, however, slammed the US for the statements, saying Washington should not take sides on the territorial dispute with Manila.
Qin said on Thursday that “comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity.”
“It goes against US commitment of not taking sides on issues of dispute, has a negative effect on the maintenance of peace and stability of Southeast Asia and in the final analysis, does no good to the US itself,” Qin said.
Qin said the move of the Philippines to send two ships at the Ayungin Shoal has infringed on China’s rights and interests in the region and violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
“It is an out-and-out provocation. China has every reason to send away the two Philippine ships,” Qin said. – With Alexis Romero