Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected on Thursday, Nov. 25, the demand of the Chinese government for the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
The BRP Sierra is an old Navy ship which was grounded at the Ayungin Shoal with Philippine troops on board in a bid to assert sovereignty in the area amid the territorial dispute with China and other nearby countries.
“Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) where we have sovereign rights,” said Lorenzana in a statement.
“Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas) which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of,” he added.
The Defense chief was reacting to the statement of the Chinese government that the Philippine government should remove the BRP Sierra Madre as it claimed that the area is part of China’s territory.
China used its claim that was shot down by the UN tribunal to justify the presence of its Coast Guard personnel and in harassing Philippine ships in the area.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. filed a diplomatic protest after two Philippine supply boats on a mission to bring food and other supplies were water cannoned by Chinese Coast Guard. This forced the two supply boats to return to Palawan.
Supplies boats eventually reached BRP Sierra Madre on Nov. 23.
“For days, I have been quietly resolving an issue involving our detachment at the Ayungin Shoal. One of the most significant challenges of being a Defense Secretary is staying calm in the face of crisis,” said Lorenzana in an earlier post on his Facebook page..
The recent use of water cannons against our two resupply boats in the Ayungin shoal is an affront to the Filipino people. I have told the Chinese Ambassador that that no one can prevent us from doing what we have to lawfully do within the west Philippine Sea, an area where we have sovereign rights by international laws,” he added.
But on Wednesday, Nov. 24, China issued a statement demanding the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre.
“The 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing,” said Lorenzana in a statement posted on Thursday, Nov. 25.
Meron tayong dalawang dokumento na nagpapatunay na meron tayong sovereign rights sa ating EEZ habang sila ay wala at yung claim nila ay walang basehan. (We have two documents proving that we have sovereign rights in our EEZ whle all they have is a claim that has no basis),” he added.