MANILA, Philippines—Chinese ships are still in the Ayungin Shoal but the Philippines will continue to maintain its presence there as well, despite limited forces and resources, to assert its own territorial claim to the resource-rich area in the West Philippine Sea.
The military will “continuously monitor our good friends in the area with what is available with my command and we provide the reports to the national leadership for their appreciation,” said Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Armed Forces Western Command.
“We will not leave Ayungin,” Guerrero said.
The Philippines has marked its territorial claim over Ayungin with the aging BRP Sierra Madre which, despite its sorry state, proudly flies the Philippine flag.
The Sierra Madre was intentionally grounded in the shoal in 1999 to ensure that the Chinese will not claim Ayungin the way it took over Mischief Reef in 1995.
Guerrero said the number of Chinese vessels in the area varies from one to three.
“They are not taking over, they are just monitoring actually … We are protecting our respective posts,” he said.
Guerrero said the situation in the Ayungin Shoal was not a “standoff” but more of “observing one another” at sea.
He also said that the Chinese did not harass the Philippine ship that brought fresh troops and supplies to the Ayungin Shoal last month.
The Philippines and China remain entangled in a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, with China claiming all islands within its controversial nine-dash line, including those territories claimed by the Philippines and other countries in the Spratlys group of islands.
China has of late become more aggressive in staking its claim, sending naval ships to the disputed territories, just as the United States began its “rebalancing” of forces in the Asia-Pacific region. Nikko Dizon