Marcos: BRP Sierra Madre purely a Philippines concern

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Marcos: BRP Sierra Madre purely a Philippines concern
This aerial photograph taken from a military aircraft shows the dilapidated Sierra Madre ship of the Philippine Navy anchored near Ayungin shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) with Philippine soldiers on-board to secure the perimeter in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, on May 11, 2015. The Spratlys are considered a potential Asian flashpoint, and claimant nations including the Philippines have expressed alarm as China has embarked on massive reclamation activity.
AFP photo / Pool / Ritchie B. Tongo

MANILA, Philippines — The condition of the BRP Sierra Madre – the dilapidated warship that serves as a Philippine Navy outpost at Ayungin Shoal – is a “purely Filipino concern,” President Marcos said, following reports that the US is providing advice on repairing the vessel.

In a recent interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK, Marcos said while the US has been helping the Philippines conduct sea patrols, the situation of the Sierra Madre is a problem that Filipinos aim to address themselves. ?

“As far as the Philippines is concerned, the situation with the Sierra Madre is a purely Filipino concern. Because of that, we have moved unilaterally in doing whatever it is we can to maintain the presence in Ayungin Shoal and ensure we can resupply our people there so that they can maintain our presence. The most I would say is that the Americans are conducting joint cruises in the vicinity,” Marcos said.

“But in the specific case of Ayungin Shoal, the Sierra Madre, we consider it a Philippine problem and we intend to solve that problem ourselves,” he added.

Marcos noted that the US, a treaty ally of the Philippines, is not the only country sending ships to conduct patrols in the area. ?“It’s also Japan. It’s also (South) Korea. It’s also Australia. Canada also sometimes comes in. Once in a while, some of the European countries send their own ships. So it’s really a concerted effort. It’s not just the US. Perhaps the US has the highest profile,” he said.

Ayungin Shoal is situated about 105 nautical miles from Palawan, the province nearest the West Philippine Sea or the area of the South China Sea inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. While Ayungin is within the Philippines’ EEZ and is part of the country’s continental shelf, China is also claiming the shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao.

Known internationally as Second Thomas, the shoal has been the subject of recent tensions between Manila and Beijing as Chinese vessels have been trying to prevent Philippine boats from delivering supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusty vessel that has been grounded at the shoal since 1999. Nikkei reported in November that the US has started advising the Philippines on the repair of the ship.

Earlier this month, the Philippines slammed China for resorting to a water cannon attack and ramming to bar its resupply mission from reaching the shoal.

China has insisted that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands in the South China Sea and has advised the Philippines to “act with caution.” China’s expansive maritime claim in the resource-rich South China Sea was voided by a Hague-based arbitral court in 2016.

Marcos has cited the need for a “paradigm shift,” admitting that the diplomatic efforts with China are heading “in a poor direction.”

“We have to do something that we have not done before. We have to come up with a new concept, a new principle, a new idea so that we move, as I say, we move the needle the other way. It’s going up, let’s move the needle back, so that paradigm shift is something that we have to formulate,” Marcos said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Dec. 16.

“We do not want to go to the point where there are incidents that might cause an actual violent conflict. Maybe from a mistake or a misunderstanding and these things happen all the time... And so, we have, in my view, it’s time that the countries that feel that they have an involvement in this situation, we have to come up with a paradigm shift,” he added.

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