MANILA – The Western Command (Wescom) on Sunday said it has successfully completed another resupply mission to Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) which is grounded and standing watch in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
"The Wescom of the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced the completion of another resupply mission on December 17 to troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre, which is grounded in Ayungin Shoal in the WPS," it said in a statement on Sunday.
This came even as a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel, with several China militia vessels roaming in the vicinity, challenged and shadowed the Philippine supply boat.
"The Chinese radio challenges would claim that the sea area near the Philippine ship is 'under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China,' that they are allowing supplies to be delivered, and warned that bringing construction materials will be dealt with," Wescom said.
These radio challenges would always be followed by CCG's shadowing and close maneuvers against Philippine supply boats to try to disrupt the mission.
The Philippine supply boats, on the other hand, would respond and proceed to their planned route despite the challenges.
Meanwhile, Wescom commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos reiterated the significance of the BRP Sierra Madre serving as the nearest Philippine outpost to China's military garrison on Mischief Reef.
"The Mischief garrison is in our country's exclusive economic zone and is China's closest military facility to Palawan. That is why resupply missions are critical in maintaining our presence in Ayungin," Carlos added.
The recent resupply mission is the 11th this year.
Last April, China blocked the entrance of Ayungin Shoal with nets and ropes, deployed Chinese militia vessels and rubber boats, and repeatedly warned against bringing construction materials.
In May, the nets were no longer blocking the supply entrance of the Ayungin Shoal.
However, the CCG, militia vessels and rubber boats remained in the area.
"Our mission team has never requested permission to conduct resupply and other maritime operations in our territory and EEZ," Carlos said.
Gifts for troops
Meanwhile, Wescom spokesperson Maj. Cheryl Tindog said the Dec. 17 resupply mission also brought in Christmas care packs for troops aboard the BRP Sierra Madre.
She added that this mission was equally significant because Christmas care packs were also given to the crew of the Navy ship.
The Christmas care packs consist of foods that make up the Filipino's traditional Noche Buena and include lechon de leche (suckling pig).
"Together with the University of Perpetual Help System and Naval Forces Reserve National Capital Region, the Commander of Wescom sent smiles of glad tidings and cheers to the sailors and marines in this part of the country's last frontier," Tindog said. (PNA)