Connect with us


Phl vows to assert rights over Ayungin, rest of EEZ



The Philippines will “fully” exercise its sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea despite China’s demand to pull out one of the state’s military outposts in the area, Malacañang vowed Friday.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles reiterated in a televised briefing that the government won’t heed Beijing’s call to remove BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated vessel which has been used by the Philippine marine contingent as shelter on the Ayungin Shoal for over two decades.

“It is part of our territory, and we will fully exercise our sovereign rights over our territory,” said Nograles, who is also acting spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The President has said time and time again, even before the United Nations, that the Ayungin is within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and the Hague arbitral award,” Nograles added.

Under the UNCLOS, where China is a signatory like the Philippines, a country’s EEZ shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration upheld this in a July 2016 decision and ruled that the Ayungin Shoal is within the Philippine EEZ, along with the Spratly Islands, Panganiban Reef, and Recto Bank. The court also junked China’s sweeping claims in the resource-rich waterway based on its nine-dash line doctrine.

Nograles was responding to queries about whether Manila will heed Beijing’s call to pull out its navy ship BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal.

[Related story: Sierra Madre not budging] 

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has claimed the area is part of Chinese territory, despite international jurisprudence stating otherwise, as he claimed that the Philippines agreed in 2014 to stay away from Ayungin.

Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana has since refuted Beijing’s claim, and said that it was China which commits “trespassing.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs also stressed the shoal is part of the Philippine continental shelf over which the nation has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

The government, according to Nograles, is also not closing its doors to the possible refurbishment of the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre.

“We continue to implement the AFP modernization. Our naval assets are covered by the AFP modernization,” he said.

The Philippine military deliberately ran aground the World War II-era warship Sierra Madre on Ayungin in 1999 to fortify the country’s claim and provide a shelter to a small contingent of marines.


‘Utter disregard’ of laws

Also on Friday, presidential aspirant Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson filed a resolution condemning the continued presence and “hostile” acts of Chinese ships within the country’s EEZ.

Lacson, chairperson of the Senate defense committee, filed Resolution 954 where he described China’s actions as an “utter disregard” of the country’s arbitral win at the Hague court in 2016.

Through the resolution, he also urged the government to consistently assert the Philippines’ sovereignty over the disputed territory.

“The continuous presence and manifestation of hostile and belligerent acts of these Chinese maritime vessels within our country’s EEZ show the utter disregard of China of the arbitral ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and our country’s sovereign rights over the area in question,” Lacson said in his explanatory note.

“Considering the importance of the WPS in ensuring freedom of navigation, unhampered international trade and commerce in the Asia Pacific Region and the vital role it plays in the security and safety of the region, there is a need to uphold a rules-based maritime order in the area to maintain the balance of power and stability,” he added.

If China will be “unchallenged,” Lacson pointed out that the issue would pose “clear and present danger not only to our national interest and territorial integrity but also to the peace and stability of the entire Asia-Pacific Region.”

He then called on the government to address the territorial dispute through continuous diplomatic dialogue with nations with mutual interests in the waterway and by taking part in defense and security agreements with other nations.

Lacson also said a comprehensive development plan is needed in the area to improve the quality of Filipinos residing there and to assert the country’s sovereignty.

Rommel Banlaoi, President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, meanwhile described Beijing’s aggressive posture in the West Philippine Sea as a “salami slicing” strategy.

“China is implementing what we call a salami slicing strategy, that is, doing a small action that if not prevented will become a big problem in the future,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

He also echoed the Philippine government’s position that there was no commitment to remove the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal contrary to the Chinese government’s claim.

While he agreed with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that “we can do whatever we want” in the area, Banlaoi noted that the real situation shows “limitations to movement” because of China’s growing presence that could hamper local activities.

In a conference on Thursday, University of the Philippines law professor Jay Batongbacal also warned against China’s “cabbage strategy” of gradually inserting layers of Chinese vessels in Philippine outposts to limit activities in the said areas.

On 16 November, three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and fired water cannons on two Philippine boats en route to Ayungin Shoal to transport food supplies to Filipino soldiers onboard BRP Sierra Madre.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the delivery of supplies to the Filipino troops had to be aborted. Philippine supply boats resumed their mission this week.


With Sundy Locus