Lorenzana to China on BRP Sierra Madre: ‘What commitment?’
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has not committed to remove BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea contrary to China’s claims, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday (Nov. 25).
“As far as I know there is no such commitment. That ship has been there since 1999. If there was commitment it would have been removed long time ago,” he told reporters.
BRP Sierra Madre, a World War 2 landing ship tank, was intentionally grounded in 1999 to serve as a garrison for Filipino troops in Ayungin Shoal, which China claims to own and calls Ren’ai Jiao.
Beijing on Wednesday (Nov. 24) reiterated its demand for the Philippines to remove the dilapidated ship.
“China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its illegally grounded vessel from Ren’ai Jiao,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing in Beijing.
“This position remains unchanged,” Zhao said.
China claims way back in 2014 that the Philippines had agreed to remove the ship, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said otherwise at the time.
“The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” the DFA said.
On Tuesday (Nov. 23), the Philippines successfully carried out a resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal a week after Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and fired water cannon at Philippine resupply boats, forcing them to return to the Palawan mainland.
“This delivery of food and other supplies is a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations,” Zhao said.
“The China Coast Guard ship patrolled and performed its duty in the water area in accordance with law and monitored from start to end the Philippine side’s supply delivery activities,” he said.
Ayungin Shoal, located 104 nautical miles off Palawan, is a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, which the Philippines has sovereign rights.
“Ayungin lies inside our EEZ which we have sovereign rights,” Lorenzana said.
He said the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and the 2016 South China Sea arbitration ruling supported the Philippine assertion that China’s territorial claims have neither historic nor legal basis.
“We can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing,” Lorenzana said.
“We have two sets of documents to prove that we have sovereign rights in our EEZ while they have none and their claim is without basis,” Lorenzana added.
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