PH drawing up new tactics for Ayungin missions

PH drawing up new tactics for Ayungin missions

water cannon attacks and blocking maneuvers of Chinese ships ayungin mission

A RED LINE To slip past water cannon attacks and blocking maneuvers of Chinese ships, last
seen during the incident in Ayungin Shoal on Tuesday, the Philippine military will focus on
speed and maneuverability in its future missions to its outpost there, the BRP Sierra Madre,
according to Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, chief of the Western Command. —VIDEO GRAB FROM PCG

The Philippines will devise new tactics for its next resupply missions to a remote outpost in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, focusing on quickness and flexibility to dodge China’s obstructions, a senior military official said on Thursday, following a collision and water cannon attack earlier this week.

The chief of the Western Command (Wescom) said the Philippines would stand its ground and maintain its presence in the shoal through the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre, despite persistent harassment by the Chinese, as Manila warned Beijing not to step on its “red line” by attempting to remove the outpost.

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“The No. 1 concern for resupply boats to be used is the speed and maneuverability,” Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos said in an interview on Thursday.

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Commander’s orders

“Because we expect them to block us and do some dangerous maneuvers, we need a vessel that is highly maneuverable so we can have a better chance of breaking through because, in terms of numbers, they have quite a lot,” he added.

According to Carlos, the Wescom is steadfast in following the orders of President Marcos to continue the rotation and resupply mission (Rore) to the Sierra Madre despite dangerous blocking maneuvers often performed by the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese maritime militias.

“The Commander in Chief has ordered that we will not leave, [so the Sierra Madre] will stay there. So to comply with that order, we need to deliver supplies regularly to our troops and rotate them,” Carlos said.

“We will do everything to comply with that order, for our troops to stay there,” he added.

Last Tuesday, a CCG vessel collided with a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship, damaging its hull, while a pair of CCG vessels launched a water cannon attack on the Unaizah May (UM) 4, one of the supply boats trying to reach the Sierra Madre. Four crew members were wounded after the boat’s windshield was shattered.

READ: PH and China coast guard ships collide in West Philippine Sea

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Carlos later disclosed that the UM 4 was only on an experimental voyage to see if it could enter the low-elevation shoal, but the mission had to be aborted after being obstructed by the CCG ships.Ayungin is a low-tide elevation located 195 kilometers off Palawan province, within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), one of the nine features occupied by Manila in the Kalayaan Island Group, or the Spratly chain.

In 1999, the Philippines deliberately grounded the Sierra Madre, which hosts a small contingent of troops, to fortify its presence in the hotly contested waters.

Declared ‘red lines’

The Philippine Navy said any attempt by China to remove the Sierra Madre would meet a forceful response. At a press briefing, the Navy spokesperson, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, said both Ayungin and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, “have been declared as red lines” by the Marcos administration.

“There will be no building or reclamation on Bajo de Masinloc. There will be no removing of LS57 (Sierra Madre) from Ayungin Shoal,” Trinidad told reporters.

Panatag, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos some 220 km west of Zambales, also within the Philippines’ EEZ, was seized by China following a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.

In August last year, the President denied China’s claim that the Philippines had promised Beijing to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin.

‘Goodwill abused’

On Thursday, China’s foreign minister said Beijing “will legitimately defend our rights in accordance with the law.”

“On maritime disputes, China has always maintained a high degree of restraint,” Wang Yi told a press conference on Thursday during the annual meeting of Chinese lawmakers known as the Two Sessions.

“But of course, we do not allow our goodwill to be abused, and we do not accept the distortion or deliberate infringement of maritime laws,” he said.

INQToday: South China Sea collision not reason to invoke defense pact with US – Marcos

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has sought to assert sovereignty there despite competing claims from Southeast Asian nations and an international arbitration ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal voided Beijing’s sweeping claims to almost the entire sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign right to fish and explore resources within its EEZ, a ruling China does not recognize.

Navy ‘always there’

Tensions between China and the Philippines have flared in recent months as ships from both countries have clashed near contested reefs.

Carlos, who was also aboard the UM 4 during the encounter with the CCG vessels, disclosed that he was among those hurt.

“I had minor injuries (cuts in two fingers), and in my foot,” he said.

Carlos added that while vessels of the Philippine Navy had no direct participation in Rore missions, its forces were always within the vicinity in case of emergency.

The PCG provides security escort to the chartered supply boats during Rore missions with the navy on the sidelines.

“They have always been there. We are not leaving the WPS (West Philippine Sea) to establish naval presence. They may not be seen at the Ayungin [missions] but the Philippine Navy is the most dominant force in WPS in terms of the number of patrol days and number of ships that we deploy,” he said.

Carlos added that the Navy was present “around 95 percent of the time.”

“Out of 30 days in a month, [they are there for] 25 days, they remain at sea to show the flag and establish our jurisdiction there,” he added.

Smaller Chinese presence

In a separate phone interview with reporters on Thursday, Carlos noted that there was an unusually low number of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Ayungin days after Tuesday’s incident.

The Navy earlier counted three People’s Liberation Army-Navy warships, five CCG ships, and 18 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels in the area at the height of the encounter with the Philippine ships.

But on Thursday, only two Chinese maritime militia ships and one CCG ship were seen in the same waters, Carlos said.

According to a report published by the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative in January, the number of Chinese vessels in Ayungin during Philippine resupply missions has “increased substantially” since 2021.

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On average, a single Chinese ship was spotted at Ayungin during resupply missions in 2021 but increased to about 14 ships in 2023, the report said. —WITH A REPORT FROM AFP

TAGS: Ayungin Shoal, Ayungin Shoal resupply missions, resupply mission, West Philippine Sea

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