Civilian boats successfully resupply Philippine outpost in South China Sea

The delivery to the BRP Sierra Madre is the third since President Marcos took office.
By Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe for BenarNews
2022.10.06
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Civilian boats successfully resupply Philippine outpost in South China Sea A civilian boat delivers supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) in the South China Sea, in this undated photo.
Handout photo/Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Command

The Philippines this week completed its third successful resupply in as many months of its outpost at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, a task subjected to frequent harassment by Chinese ships in recent years.

Civilian commercial boats hired by the Philippine government brought food, water, maintenance equipment, medicine and other equipment to a small crew of marines who live aboard the outpost, the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era ship that was run aground in the Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) in 1999.

The shoal is about 174 nautical miles from the city of Puerto Princesa in western Palawan island that faces the South China Sea, which Manila refers to as the West Philippine Sea. The shoal is one of the nine areas occupied by Filipino troops in disputed waters.

The mission to deliver the supplies to the ship was the third one since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in late June and the 10th one completed in 2022, military official said.

“This is the third consecutive resupply activity undertaken by the government with neither any escort nor untoward incident,” said Maj. Cherryl Tindog, spokeswoman for the military’s Western Command (WESCOM).

In June, just before Marcos formally assumed the presidency, Chinese ships shadowed military-escorted supply boats and challenged them through a radio broadcast.

Last year, two Chinese coast guard ships chased a boat carrying a crew from local broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. The most dramatic sea chase occurred in 2014 when a Filipino resupply boat, which was also carrying journalists managed to evade a Chinese ship harassing it.

Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, the WESCOM chief, said the military deliberately did not escort the recent supply ships.

Still, a Philippine Coast Guard ship, the BRP Malapascua, patrolled near the area during the resupply mission while two China Coast Guard and five Chinese militia ships were spotted as the supply boats entered and exited the shoal.

“The absence of Philippine government escort vessels was deliberate. We are exhausting all available means to peacefully co-exist until all WPS issues are finally resolved,” Carlos said using an acronym for the West Philippine Sea.

“Our current thrust is part of the trust-building efforts we are undertaking in response to the guidance of the president to exhaust all means to resolve the issues in the West Philippine Sea. Hence, continuing dialogues with Chinese authorities is one such approach,” Carlos said.

Scarborough Shoal

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard said it had monitored four China Coast Guard ships near Scarborough Shoal including two in territorial waters during aerial surveillance flights. Called Bajo de Masinloc by the Philippines, the shoal is about 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province on Luzon island.

“Two Chinese militia vessels were also observed outside the said vicinity waters. There was no challenge made between the PCG and the CCG during the aerial surveillance,” the coast guard said.

In 2016, Manila won an arbitral ruling against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The ruling nullified China’s expansive claims to the sea region, including in waters that lap on the shores of its neighbors. 

Among the first foreign dignitaries who visited Marcos Jr. shortly after he assumed the presidency in June was Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who pledged to maintain friendly ties with Manila while working out overlapping claims in the sea region.

Given the “uncertain, unstable and complex regional and international dynamics, it is even more important for China and the Philippines, as two close neighbors, to join hands to further enhance mutual trust (and) expand mutually beneficial cooperation,” Wang said at the time.

“This will not only serve the common interest of the two countries and two peoples but will also be our important contribution to peace and stability in our region,” he said, noting that cooperation during the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte brought “tangible benefits” to both countries.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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