Philippines hits China's repeated attempts to block resupply mission to West Philippine Sea
By Jinky Jorgio
Manila-- The Philippine Coast Guard successfully escorted two military ships on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre on Nov. 10, thwarting Beijing's attempts to stop the expedition by deploying 28 Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels.
BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II ship grounded at the Ayungin shoal since 1997, stands as a symbol of the Philippines’ claim to the West Philippine Sea.
PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan condemned what he described as reckless and dangerous maneuvers of the Chinese Coast Guard to harass, block, and put the lives of Filipinos in peril just to stop the mission.
“They (Armed Forces of the Philippines) were successful in completing the mission despite the attempts of five China Coast Guard vessels and 28 Chinese maritime militia boats to recklessly harass, block, and execute dangerous maneuvers in another attempt to illegally impede or obstruct a routine resupply and rotation mission to BRP Sierra Madre,” Gavan said in a press conference.
Gavan added that the Philippine Coast and military closely monitored the presence of four People Liberation Army Navy vessels, including a hospital ship, a corvette-type vessel, and a missile boat within the immediate vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal. Despite the harassment, Gavan vowed to continue their resupply mission and protect the Philippine waters.
A China Coast Guard vessel fired a water cannon at one of the Philippine military boats while on its way to Ayungin Shoal, for which China stakes a claim. Ayungin Shoal is located 200 km. from the Philippines while it is 3,132 km. from China.
Last week's resupply mission was the third run since the errand began in August and was followed by another trip in October. Each time, the Chinese Coast Guard attempted to stop the mission, even firing water cannons at the Philippine vessels.
In September, the Philippine Coast Guard removed a 300-meter-long barrier planted by the Chinese Coast Guard at the entrance to the lagoon of Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground off the province of Zambales.
In October, the resupply mission collided with China's vessel following its attempt to block the mission.
The Philippines claims part of the Spratly Islands or the West Philippine Sea, invoking the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was ratified by the countries involved in the territorial dispute.
In 2012, China began illegally occupying and building unlawful establishments and infrastructures on Scarborough Shoal, one of the islands in the Spratlys.
The Spratlys are located north of insular Malaysia, roughly midway between Vietnam and the Philippines. The Spratlys are spread out over a vast area of ocean measuring 409,000 sq.km.
In January 2013, the Philippines instituted arbitral proceedings against China in a dispute concerning respective “maritime entitlements” and the legality of Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea (formerly known as the South China Sea).
In a Feb. 19, 2013 diplomatic note to the Philippines, China expressed its rejection of the arbitration, saying the Arbitral Tribunal did not have jurisdiction over the case. China claimed the dispute settlement under the UNCLOS was limited and excluded sea boundary delimitations and the determination of historic titles.
In 2016, the Hague-based decision, constituted under the UNCLOS, ruled that the claim of China of historic rights to resources in the Spratly Islands “had no basis in law and is without legal effect.” It upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone.
The UNCLOS was adopted in 1982 laying down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.
The Philippines and China are both parties to the UNCLOS, the Philippines ratified it on May 6, 1984, while China on June 7, 1996.
The West Philippine Sea is located within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Most islands being claimed by China are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines such as the northeastern section of the Spratly Islands as the Kalayaan Island Group including the Scarborough Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc. The Scarborough Shoal is located 120 nautical miles west of the Philippine Island of Luzon (Palawan) while it is about 594 nautical miles from China.