It’s a ‘test of sanity,’ says Ayungin soldier
MANILA, Philippines – “Don’t lose hope,” a soldier previously assigned at BRP Sierra Madre tells future men who will be assigned there.
Marine First Lieutenant Mike Pelotera led eight soldiers at the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship that serves as the Philippine Navy detachment in Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea, a resource-rich territory claimed by China but is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Pelotera’s team was surrounded by water for five months and he said the assignment was “a test of sanity.” Soldiers stationed in Ayungin usually serve for only three months.
The nine-man Marine team was recently replaced by fresh troops last March, a second attempt for a rotation that month.
On March 9, the Philippine government tried to resupply and bring new soldiers, but Chinese vessels surrounding the area blocked them. The next attempt on March 29, a Philippine civilian ship finally got past Chinese blockade after a two-hour standoff.
“If they didn’t make it, we would have been stuck again,” Pelotera told INQUIRER.net. The rotation had been stalled because Philippine ships could not get past Chinese blockade. The soldiers at BRP Sierra Madre had to be content with airdrops.
For five months, the soldiers at BRP Sierra Madre were not able to communicate with their families. “They have to endure loneliness,” Pelotera advised future soldiers of Ayungin.
“But as time passes by, you get tougher,” he said, saying they tried to entertain themselves through fishing, swimming and watching DVDs they had brought with them.
Pelotera said it is also important for the soldiers assigned there to take care of themselves. Asked if he would be willing to be assigned there again, he answered yes without having second thoughts.
President Benigno Aquino III was all praises for the Ayungin soldiers in his speech during the Araw ng Kagitingan last week.. He recognized their “dedication” for “safeguarding our territory.”
The soldiers are on a two-week break before they head back to Marine Battalion Landing Team in Palawan.
Binay meets Ayungin Marines
On Thursday, members of Pelotera’s team paid a courtesy call to Vice President Jejomar Binay at the Coconut Palace.
Binay met them for about 20 minutes where the soldiers shared their experiences at BRP Sierra Madre. Binay, a Marine reservist, commended the soldiers for their dedication.
“We have sent them [China] the message – that we will not always be pushovers,” Binay said of March 29 incident.
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