China’s demand for the Philippines to remove grounded ship Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal met a categorical “unacceptable” reply from Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, vice chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation.
“No one can legally prevent us from exercising our rights. Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas (What belongs to the Philippines belongs to the Philippines),” said Go in reaction to the Chinese government’s demand for the Philippines to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.
The shoal, located in the West Philippine Sea, is being claimed by China. It was near this water feature that Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water cannoned supply ships from the Philippines bringing fresh food supply for its military personnel stationed in the grounded Philippine Navy ship last 16 November.
“I find this demand not acceptable,” Go remarked. “The Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands — an integral part of the Philippines. It belongs to us and it is ours to protect and use for the benefit of our people,”
Go, who also sits as a member of the Upper Chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee, has been anointed by President Duterte as the PDP Laban’s presidential candidate in next year’s national elections.
“Let us fight for our rights in an orderly and peaceful means. I continue to urge our government to stay the course in asserting our national interests,” he said.
The senator urged all stakeholders to exercise restraint to avoid increasing the tension and, instead, abide by their commitments and duties under international law.
“This is how responsible members of the international community should rightly comport themselves,” he added.
Shoal incident abhorred
Consistent with his independent foreign policy, President Duterte raised the matter of the Ayungin Shoal incident during the ASEAN-China Special Summit last Monday, saying, “We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership.”
“There is simply no other way out of this colossal problem but the rule of law,” the President added.
He maintained that the South China Sea must remain a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity, where the majesty of law is upheld and the vital interests of stakeholders inside and outside the region are recognized and respected
At least three major powers issued statements of support for the Philippines following the shoal incident. The United States reaffirmed its treaty commitment to the Philippines, considered as its ally, saying that an “armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Japan reiterated the need to peaceably settle disputes based on international law while Australia expressed concern over destabilizing incidents and reaffirmed its support for the Philippines and the 2016 arbitral ruling.
In 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” argument used to claim huge parts of the West Philippine Sea.
In 1999, the Philippine military ran the World War II-era cruiser Sierra Madre aground on Ayungin Shoal to bolster the country’s claim and create a safe haven for a small force of armed personnel.