China tries to block Phl supply ship
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Two Chinese ships tried yesterday to stop a Philippine civilian vessel from delivering supplies and provisions to a small Filipino garrison stationed on a grounded ship on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in Palawan.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) condemned the Chinese harassment, which came as Manila prepares to submit today to the United Nations arbitral tribunal its memorial or written argument on its position on the conflict with China over some islets and shoals in the West Philippine Sea.

The crew of the Chinese vessels with bow numbers 1127 and 3402 demanded to know the identity of the Philippine vessel and asked that it leave the area.

“The Chinese asked us to leave. They said ‘this is Chinese territory.’ They kept on repeating the message and even honked their horns,” STAR reporter Jaime Laude, who was on the Philippine ship, said in a phone interview.

Laude said it was around noon when they spotted the Chinese ships in the area. More than a dozen other members of media were on the Philippine vessel.

Laude said their ship was about 3.5 nautical miles from the grounded BRP Sierra Madre when the Chinese vessels made blocking maneuvers. The Sierra Madre is a former World War II landing ship deliberately grounded on the shoal to serve as garrison for a handful of Marines guarding Ayungin Shoal.

Vessel 3402 positioned itself about 200 yards from the Philippine vessel and at one point even came as close as 70 yards.

Laude said it took more than an hour before they were able to shake off the Chinese ships.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the Philippine ship managed to deliver vital supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre at around 3 p.m.

“Those on board the civilian vessel were able to re-supply and re-provision and rotate troops on board the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal,” Zagala said.

“The media was invited to observe for transparency,” he added.

Zagala said a civilian ship was sent to the area to prevent a more serious confrontation.

This was the second time Chinese ships had prevented Philippine vessels from bringing supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The first case, which took place early this month, prompted the Philippines to airdrop supplies on the Ayungin garrison.

The Philippines protested China’s blockade and maintained that it has jurisdiction over the area.

China, however, insisted that it has sovereignty over the shoal even if it is located within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Laude said they observed some helicopters hovering over their ship Friday night. He said the helicopters were believed to have come from nearby Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, which is now occupied by China.

Harassment

The DFA called yesterday’s incident another case of harassment by China.

“We demand that China cease taking actions that are a threat to our security,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said on his Twitter account.

Jose maintained that Ayungin Shoal is part of “the Philippines’ continental shelf and therefore has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it.”

The Philippines sought UN arbitration in January 2013 to settle the territorial dispute with China, but Beijing – in a note verbale to Manila the following month – rejected Manila’s initiative.

The right thing to do

Malacañang said the filing of memorial today is the right thing to do despite lack of cooperation from Beijing.

“In all of this, the Philippines will always do what is right. The government will always do what is right for our country and for our countrymen,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview over radio dzRB.

She said the country draws inspiration from messages of support from the international community.

Other claimant-countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were allegedly being cowed by China from following the actions taken by the Philippines.

She also said the Philippines is prepared for any possible sanction from China.

“I think in all of this, the Philippines, really, will do what is right. China can do what it prefers to do on this matter.”

The Philippines is required to submit the written pleading through e-mails and courier services, which should come with soft copies in storage devices. – With Helen Flores, Aurea Calica

 

ABIGAIL VALTE ARMED FORCES ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS AUREA CALICA AYUNGIN SHOAL CHINA CHINESE PHILIPPINE PHILIPPINES SIERRA MADRE
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