The Philippine military forces reiterated their commitment not to leave Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, after the Chinese government said the country’s government was not following through on its vow to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the area.
Western Command (WESCOM) Chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos stated that they have received a clear marching order from the National Security Council (NSC) not to leave Ayungin Shoal.
This follows President Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration that there is no agreement between the Philippines and China to remove the Philippine Navy ship, which was intentionally run aground at Ayungin Shoal to serve as a military outpost for the Philippines.
“To comply with that order, it is not only the national Security Council but the president in a message last night, (where he stated that) as far as the agreement, there is none so that is already a marching order for us and ang very first concern of Wescom to be able to comply with that directive is to resupply the vessel,” Carlos said in a media briefing during the visit of AFP chief of staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. at Wescom, Thursday afternoon.
Carlos said they will continue to conduct rotation and resupply (RORE) missions to Ayungin Shoal to provide goods to the soldiers stationed on BRP Sierra Madre.
He explained that RORE missions to Ayungin Shoal are regularly conducted monthly to deliver a one-month supply of food, water, and other items to the station.
However, after the incident on August 5, where Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels blocked the resupply vessel and used water cannons on it en route to Ayungin Shoal, only half of the supply was delivered because one of the civilian vessels was soaked with water.
“We need to do another run before the supplies run out in LS 57. We’re going to do that again in two weeks-time, earliest next week hopefully but definitely before the supplies run out,” Carlos said.
He further stated that he is hoping for a calmer and safer voyage in the next RORE mission, without another incident.
“It is our prayer that there will be no more water cannon incident and less aggressive reception from the other side (China) especially because of the international attention that this incident generated,” he stated.
“There’s already a bilateral consultative mechanism (BCM). The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has [already] called out the Chinese side but the hotline did not work during the incident last week. But hopefully, this time, the DFA has already mentioned it and complained about the hotline maybe this time, it will work and through the BCM, we can continue the dialogue and the diplomacy because that’s what is always being said to avoid any miscalculations there,” he added.
He also said the same civilian vessels used on August 5 will be used again after they were able to safely return to Puerto Princesa City.
“I inspected them recently, no material damage and they’re good to go for another run,” he said.
Furthermore, Carlos said they are taking other actions to keep stronghold of Ayungin Shoal with many options being considered but added that additional actions would also require additional funds.
“As far as other options in the long run, we are considering many options but as of now, I could not tell you what the options are, but all of these are on the table and we are considering, so that we can comply that Ayungin will not be abandoned and we will not pull out LS 57 there, that is the marching order that we need to comply, Carlos said.
“All courses of actions to prolong our stay there are being considered with many options and one of them is refurbishment. Whatever options that we choose to implement, it will require funds so we welcome the offer of the Senator na susuportahan niya. We will submit whatever requirements are needed,” he added.
Meanwhile, Brawner also stated that aside from Ayungin Shoal, the AFP is also looking to improve stations in other Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea.
“We are in fact looking at the whole picture of WPS and marami rin tayong ibang isla na we are occupying and we also need funds in order to improve the facilities there,” Brawner said.
As of now, we only have small structures that could accommodate only a few persons so we need to improve them to also further strengthen our presence in WPS, and these would entail more funds,” he explained, further stating that they have already sought assistance from the Congress.