The BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the navy outpost on Ayungin Shoal. (Photo from the Philippine Navy/ File photo)

Several China Coast Guard (CCG) ships once again attempted to block two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels from escorting the routine rotation of troops and reprovisioning mission of the Philippine Navy at Ayungin Shoal last week.

The incident took place between June 29 and July 1, coinciding with Commodore Alan Javier’s participation in the mission to visit and evaluate the condition of the government troops stationed aboard BRP Sierra Madre (LS 57), a source told Palawan News.

The source claimed that during the mission, there were instances where CCG ships engaged in risky maneuvers in close proximity to the PCG vessels and civilian-contracted wooden resupply boats. The shadowing and blocking incidents started from Sabina Shoal just 70 nautical miles off Palawan.

The CCG vessels identified by their bow numbers as 4203 and 5201 were observed deliberately obstructing the PCG’s BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) and BRP Malabrigo (MRRV-4402), to prevent them from approaching Ayungin. Two People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) gray ships were also in the area.

Commodore Alan Javier (holding his hands together in the middle), commander of Naval Forces West, joins troops on BRP Sierra Madre in a boodle fight during his visit last week. He is the second-highest ranking AFP official to pay a visit to the military men stationed on the ship outpost in the West Philippine Sea.

However, in the face of unrelenting harassment from the Chinese coast guard, indicative of their continuous aggressive stance in the WPS, the rotation of troops and delivery of supplies persevered and were accomplished “smoothly and successfully” until the conclusion of the mission on July 1.

Furthermore, during the mission, approximately 12 Chinese militia and large fishing vessels were observed converging in the vicinity of Ayungin. A development, which the source claimed, should already raise significant concerns for the government.

“Nagtuloy tuloy lang ang mission kasama si Commodore Javier. Pero swarming na din ang China sa Ayungin—andoon na talaga sila,” the source claimed.

Two rigid hull watercraft of the CCG also deliberately approached within 100 yards from the Philippine ship outpost in an apparent overt effort to capture visual evidence through photos and videos of the detachment.

The shoal, located 105 nautical miles west of Palawan, is at risk of becoming another flashpoint due to China’s aggressive efforts to seize Philippine-claimed features and construct artificial islands, thereby bolstering its presence over Philippine waters.

More troops needed in WPS
Due to the ongoing and escalating provocative behavior exhibited by China within the country’s territory, the impact extends even to the fishermen embarking on fishing sojourns near Ayungin. Despite being familiar with the presence of swarming militia, CCG vessels, and PLAN warships in the area, the continuous presence of such forces continues to generate heightened levels of anxiety among the fishermen.

Furthermore, Filipino fishermen have brought to light reports indicating the involvement of foreign fishing vessels, surpassing their own in size, in unlawful fishing practices such as the use of superlights and other methods that cause significant environmental damage.

Emphasizing the gravity of the situation, a Philippine Navy officer, who has recently completed his tenure as officer-in-charge of military personnel stationed in Ayungin, underscored the urgency for the national government to deploy additional troops to the WPS.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Darwin Datwin, pointed out the significance of deploying additional troops in a statement released by WESCOM on Tuesday night, July 4.

He expressed that this is not only essential for enhancing security but also crucial for safeguarding the well-being of Filipino fishermen who are unjustly deprived of their equitable share of the marine wealth.

“We need more troops and law enforcement platforms to better protect our territory from the illegal activities that destroy our natural resources and rob our countrymen of their rightful share in our country’s marine wealth,” Datwin stated.

Javier, in the same statement, stressed that the presence of troops on BRP Sierra Madre has instilled a sense of confidence among the fishermen. Consequently, these fishermen now embark on regular fishing sojourns to Ayungin, knowing they have the support and protection of the soldiers.

He said the soldiers actively contribute to the welfare of the fishermen by not only safeguarding their fishing rights in the vicinity of the shoal but also extend their assistance by providing extra provisions such as food, water, and even shelter during inclement weather conditions.

Nonetheless, it is crucial to prioritize the augmentation of law enforcement presence and the allocation of supplementary resources in the area. This is imperative in order to effectively combat the rampant illegal activities that pose a substantial threat to the ecosystem of the WPS.

“Beyond the blessings of nature, our journey was made extraordinary by the unwavering commitment and passion of our troops. The fair winds, clear skies, and following seas became secondary to the awe-inspiring sight of their firm resolve and tenacity in protecting our country’s farthest territories,” he said.