The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is planning to include more and bigger vessels on their next resupply mission in the contested South China Sea, which is within its Exclusive Economic Zone, referred to locally as the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
PCG spokesman for the WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela noted that transporting supplies to the dilapidated Philippine Navy ship at the Ayungin Shoal in the Kalayaan Group of Islands remains a challenge.
In a recent television interview, Tarriela said they would maintain vigilance following the successful resupply of the BRP Sierra Madre on August 22, 2023, where Chinese vessels attempted to block the mission.
The Filipino government has stationed troops on this World War 2 tank landing ship, deliberately grounded 1999 at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), which is now used as a forward outpost.
“We can say we were successful in carrying out the resupply mission this time. It doesn’t mean that in succeeding resupply missions, we are going to be more relaxed,” he said.
“We’re still going to be vigilant,” he added.
Earlier, China demanded the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre and even threatened to block the transportation of large-scale building materials.
The Chinese government also claimed that the Philippines promised to remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal, but the Philippines “has yet to act” on it.
However, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and two of his predecessors denied the Chinese government’s claims, stating that they never agreed to remove the vessel from the disputed shoal.
Marcos said: “I’m not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory, its ship, in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal.
“And let me go further, if there does exist such as an agreement, I rescind that agreement now.”
Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, the spokesperson for the National Task Force (NTF) on the WPS, said that it is time to build a permanent structure on the reef to harness the marine resources and oil.
“We have an obligation to be there, we hold the sovereign rights over the area, no other country can set up permanent structures, just us. Because when you said sovereign rights, you can exploit the natural resources. How can you do so if there are no permanent structures,” said Malaya.
Resupply mission accomplished
Despite attempts by Chinese vessels to block the mission, the WPS task force announced that they finally completed the much-needed supply mission to the Marines aboard the BRP Sierra Madre ship.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, who is also the NTF-WPS chair, lauded the “unfailing valor, determination, and professionalism” displayed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PCG personnel.
“The Filipino people owe them a debt of gratitude for their commitment to place their lives on the line to defend our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction throughout the expense of the West Philippine Sea,” said Año.
The task force likewise said the rotation and resupply mission delivered fresh supplies to the contingent manning the BRP Sierra Madre despite harassment and interference from the China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia.
The task force also said the country’s Navy vessels stood by during the mission. It also maintained routine missions to Philippine outposts on various features in the WPS and will continue regularly.
“These missions are part of the Philippine government’s legitimate exercise of its administrative functions over the WPS, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 2016 Arbitral Award, and domestic laws,” said the task force.
Meanwhile, PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu noted that collaborative efforts and unity of purpose with the AFP strongly demonstrate the Philippine government’s determination to assert its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the WPS.
PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu (left) with Indian Coast Guard chief Rakesh Pal at the signing ceremony in New Delhi, India.
Philippine, Indian coast guards ink maritime cooperation deal
The PCG also recently enhanced its maritime cooperation with the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and Navy in New Delhi, amid escalating tensions in the contested South China Sea.
During Abu’s official visit to New Delhi, the PCG chief inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the ICG on August 22, 2023, to enhance maritime cooperation between the two countries.
“The collaboration between PCG and ICG reflects a shared commitment to a safer and more thriving maritime environment. As the relationship between these coastguards continues to strengthen, the future holds promising opportunities for mutual growth and success,” the PCG said in a statement.
In New Delhi, Abu also held a bilateral meeting with Indian coast guard chief Rakesh Pal. The meeting emphasized their ongoing maritime collaboration, strengthening their commitment, and boosting their partnership to ensure a secure, clean, and prosperous maritime environment.
“The first-ever bilateral meeting between the maritime agencies signifies dedication to strengthening professional bonds in accordance with the provisions of the MoU by sharing practices, conducting joint exercises and enhancing training collaborations,” the ICG said in a Facebook post.
All photos credit: PCG