MANILA — Chinese documentation of a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed at a West Philippine Sea outpost is a form of "harassment," an official said on Wednesday, two days after President Rodrigo Duterte rebuked Beijing's blockade at the area.
Duterte on Monday said the Philippines "abhorred" the Chinese coast guard's use of water cannon on the resupply boats for the Sierra Madre, a ship intentionally grounded decades ago at the Ayungin Shoal and is now an outpost in the disputed waters.
The Philippine Navy on Tuesday completed the resupply mission, but the defense department said the Chinese coast guard dispatched a boat with 3 people, who recorded the unloading of Philippine personnel and cargo.
"We consider that as a form of harassment," said National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
He said China's ambassador said personnel were only documenting the resupply mission.
But Esperon said, "Wala silang karapatan na pumunta d’yan sa loob ng Ayungin. Sila ang trespassing."
(They have no right to go at Ayungin. They are the ones who are trespassing.)
The shoal is within the Philippines' 321-kilometer exclusive economic zone, he said in a televised public briefing.
A small military contingent has for years been based on the rusty Sierra Madre ship at the shoal to assert the Philippines' claim to sovereignty in the area.
Beijing refuses to heed an arbitration tribunal, which in 2016 junked its historical claims to the waterway. It has for years deployed hundreds of vessels in big clusters to reinforce its claim.
Esperon said Manila could preserve the Sierra Madre ship “so that it will become the permanent detachment” or build a structure in the area where troops and fishermen could reside.
"Kung anong gusto nating gawin d’yan ay magagawa natin dahil nasa ating exclusive economic zone ‘yan at nasa loob ng territory," he said.
(Whatever we want to do there, we can, because that is within our exclusive economic zone and territory.)
The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Monday filed a resolution seeking to probe the recent Chinese blockade at Ayungin Shoal.
There are "nuances" and "security matters" that cannot be broached in a possible House probe, said Esperon, who suggested an executive session instead.
He assured lawmakers government is "doing its best" and "working on enhancing our stations" in the area.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea.
— With a report from Reuters