MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday repudiated China’s claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands that is located 105 nautical miles west of Palawan.
“The use of the word ‘indisputable’ is itself disputable for the reason that number one, the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) says that they don’t have sovereignty over the terrain. It’s very far. So, how can they exercise sovereignty?” AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said in a weekly forum in Quezon City.
Aguilar’s statement was in response to China Coast Guard (CCG) spokesperson Gan Yu’s remarks that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Ayungin Shoal, which Beijing refers to as Ren’ai Reef.
In a statement posted on the CCG’s official website, Gan claimed that on Wednesday, two supply ships and two coast guard vessels from the Philippines “intruded into the adjacent waters of Ren'ai Reef in China's Nansha Islands without the permission of the Chinese government.”
“The Chinese Coast Guard strictly warned the Philippine vessels in accordance with the law, tracked and monitored the vessels all the way, and effectively regulated them,” he added.
Citing the July 12, 2016 ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, Aguilar said China’s claims over the disputed waters have already been declared invalid.
“And not a single country is brave enough to say that they are right (to lay claim over the hotly contested waters),” he said.
“I can confidently tell you that the morale of our troops in the West Philippine Sea under the Western Command (WesCom) is high and they are determined to work harder and make sure that the interest of the country is protected.”
Aguilar said the resupply missions are now becoming “more frequent” to attend to the needs of military personnel deployed to the Ayungin Shoal.
“It’s not about confidence because it’s supposed to be regular missions. But I think it’s more of the needs of the people there,” he said.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Wednesday announced that another successful rotation and resupply (RORE) mission has been conducted for the military personnel stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57), which is standing watch at the Ayungin Shoal.
The NTF-WPS said the mission was done through the combined efforts of the WesCom and the Philippine Coast Guard upon the instruction of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.
It added that the mission was a success despite attempts by a significant number of CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels to “block, harass, and interfere with the routine RORE mission.”
The Philippines’ resupply missions and maintenance of the BRP Sierra Madre are part of regular operations in line with domestic and international law and ensure the safety and well-being of Filipino military personnel. (PNA)