MANILA (UPDATE) — Government forces brought fresh supplies to troops stationed at Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday, after the mission was aborted last week when it was blocked by Chinese coast guard.
The Philippines has condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said used water cannon on resupply boats headed toward Filipino-occupied Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), one of the nine features in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) occupied by Filipino troops.
"Dumating na ang resupply boats sa Ayungin Shoal at nakarating na sa BRP Sierra Madre (navy ship) ngayong tanghali," said Malacañang acting spokesman Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
(The resupply boats reached Ayungin Shoal and the BRP Sierra Madre this noon.)
He said this was a "testament and proof that we can peacefully supply and resupply our Filipino citizens there."
But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a Chinese coast guard ship was in the vicinity during the resupply mission. He said it sent a rubber boat with 3 persons near the Sierra Madre, and they took photos and videos while the supplies were being unloaded.
"I have communicated to the Chinese ambassador that we consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment," he said in a statement.
Lorenzana said Sunday that Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian had assured him the resupply mission will not be impeded.
The Philippines asserts that Ayungin Shoal is part of the KIG, an integral part of the country, as well as its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, over which it said it has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction. This was affirmed by an International arbitral court in 2016.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said in a summit between ASEAN and China that Philippine authorities "abhor" the water cannon attack and "view with grave concern other similar developments."
He said the 2016 ruling by the United Nations-backed arbitral court which rejected China's "historical" claims to Philippine waters provides "legal clarity… pointing us to a just and fair solution to our disputes."
Fishers' group Pamalakaya said Duterte's pronouncements came "too little, too late."
"China has already occupied and transformed most parts of our exclusive economic zone into military bases courtesy of President Duterte’s subservient foreign policies over the last 5 years," said the group.
"Duterte’s statement was more of a salvation of his political interest than assertion of national sovereignty," it added.
Nograles said, "Hindi po totoo lahat ng mga paratang na ‘yon."
(All those allegations are not true.)
"The DFA acted swiftly, the President spoke about the issue, and resupply boats po natin ay nakarating sa (our resupply boats reached) Ayungin Shoal," he said.
The chief of the Philippine military's Western Command, Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez, said the number of Chinese coast guard vessels in the area had gone down to two as of Saturday night, from three Tuesday last week.
He said the Chinese maritime militia vessels had also left the shoal. China has denied operating a militia.
There were 19 vessels near Ayungin Shoal recently and 45 near Pag-asa Island, another Philippines-occupied area, according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.
China continues to disregard the 2016 arbitral ruling.
— With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; and Reuters
Video courtesy of PTV