MANILA, Philippines - Another Chinese surveillance vessel has linked up with two other Chinese ships currently deployed near Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
â€œAs of yesterday (Monday), another CMS (Chinese Maritime Surveillance) vessel was monitored at the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, bringing to three the number of CMS vessels in the area,â€ said a senior military official, who asked not be named.
For almost a month now, China has maintained the deployment of its vessels in Ayungin Shoal, an area very close to mainland Palawan and outside the hotly-contested Spratlyâ€™s Archipelago being claimed in whole and in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysian, Taiwan and Brunie.
At one point, several Chinese missile-firing frigates were also monitored in the area as China ignored the Philippinesâ€™ rightful ownership of the shoal which is only 105 nautical miles from Rizal, Palawan.
While the Chinese frigates disappeared from the area late last month when the United States (US) strike group led by super carrier USS Nimitz launched a two-day naval drill in the region, their two CMS vessels refused to leave the area.
The senior official described the continued presence of the CMS vessels as a key indicator that China is not backing down from its aggressive territorial claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
Chinese Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff of the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army (PLA) in last weekâ€™s Shangrila Defense forum in Singapore, also defended the presence of their warships and maritime surveillance vessels in the West Philippine Sea. He said China has undisputable sovereignty rights over the region.
â€œGeneral Qiâ€™s open statement only outlined Chinaâ€™s intention that they intend to pursue their illegal occupation wiithin the West Philippine Sea,â€ the military official said.
China wants to occupy Ayungin Shoal by employing the same tactics when its naval forces illegally occupied Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in 1994, he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has already lodged a diplomatic protest against China over Beijingâ€™s illegal and provocative acts in Ayungin Shoal. China said the DFA's diplomatic protest has no basis.
â€œWell, from our own assessment, they (Chinese navy) intend to establish their foothold at Ayungin because they are now demanding the removal of our naval vessel from the area,â€ the official added, referring to the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine Navy landing tank ship that ran aground in the area in 1999.
A contingent of Filipino troops on forward deployment aboard the grounded Navy logistics ship, now risks of not receiving fresh supplies as the Chinese naval vessels are now poised on imposing a naval blockade around the shoal.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as well as Navy chief, Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano, declared that they will not be intimidated by the presence of Chinese ships around the shoal and will not pull out the soldiers from the area.
Gazmin and Alano also assured that the routine re-provisioning and troop rotation will continue in all the country's regime of islands in the hotly-contested region.
â€œWe will fight for what is ours up to the last soldier standing,â€ Gazmin declared recently.