Pact on Ayungin rescinded, if there’s any – Marcos
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday disputed China’s claim that the Philippine government promised 24 years ago to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
The rusting vessel has been serving as a military outpost in an area claimed by Beijing despite being within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
“I am not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory its own ship — in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre — from the Ayungin Shoal,” the president said in a brief video message.
“And let me go further, if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now,” Marcos said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday claimed that the Philippines had “promised several times to tow [the Sierra Madre] away but has yet to act” on that so-called commitment to remove the vessel.
The World War II ship was deliberately grounded at Ayungin in 1999. In recent months, it has been at the center of recurring tensions between Chinese and Philippine coast guards, especially whenever the latter escorts missions to deliver supplies for the troops stationed at the vessel.
The latest flare-up happened on Aug. 5 when China Coast Guard ships blocked and fired water cannons at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and another boat used by the Philippine Navy.
The incident was roundly condemned by the Philippines, the United States, and several other nations as a dangerous act by China that could destabilize regional security.
Earlier on Wednesday, the National Security Council (NSC) dared the Chinese government to name the Philippine official who supposedly made the pledge.
“If China firmly believes that there is such an agreement or promise, let them tell us who made the promise because maybe the person who promised them was not a government official,” said NSC spokesperson Jonathan Malaya.
“Because I can categorically say to the public and to everyone that there is no administration that has promised to remove that because that BRP Sierra Madre is a symbol of our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal,” Malaya added during the Laging Handa briefing.
Where’s the document?
Malaya also challenged China to show any such agreement that was made in writing.
“I have been repeatedly saying in reaction to the Chinese Embassy statement that if there was really an agreement, you should release it, right?” he said. “They are the ones that are making this claim. Therefore, it is their responsibility to back up their claim.”
As to the Aug. 5 water cannon incident, the NSC official also disagreed with China’s description of its coast guard’s conduct as being “professional, restrained and beyond reproach.”
“[T]hey placed the lives of our personnel in the supply ships at risk,” he said. “So, how can the Chinese government say that their conduct was professional, restrained, and beyond reproach?”
He reiterated Manila’s stand that it would “never abandon Ayungin Shoal,” stressing that the welfare of the troops stationed at the Sierra Madre was “at the forefront of our minds every single moment.”
He called on China to stop the “coercive, offensive, and unlawful blockade” of Philippine resupply missions to Ayungin.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has reaffirmed its “ironclad” commitment to come to the defense of the Philippines should maritime tensions further escalate.
“[Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin condemned the China Coast Guard’s use of water cannons and other dangerous maneuvers, which put the safety of Philippine vessels and crew at risk,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement on Tuesday.
The 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries “extends to Philippine public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces — to include those of its Coast Guard — in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea,” the statement quoted Austin as saying.