China blasts Philippines plan to build Ayungin facilities

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
China blasts Philippines plan to build Ayungin facilities
Photo of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning last December 29, 2023
Released / Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China

MANILA, Philippines — Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning hit back at the Philippine armed forces over a plan to build a permanent structure at Ayungin Shoal in a bid to protect the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

In her regular press briefing on Friday, Mao Ning accused the Philippines of “reneging” on its commitment to remove the BRP Sierra Madre – a rusting
 wartime ship grounded there – and to keep the Ren’ai Jiao (their term for Ayungin Shoal) “facility-free.”

“Ren’ai Jiao is an uninhabited shoal. According to the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and ASEAN countries, parties should keep Ren’ai Jiao uninhabited and facility-free,” Mao Ning said.

“On the Ren’ai Jiao issue, the Philippines reneged on its words, changed its policy, infringed on China’s sovereignty and made provocations again and again and triggered complex situations,” she added.

Asked about a report where Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar was quoted saying that a civilian structure is earmarked for funding in the Philippine 2024 national budget, Mao Ning said “this would be another major move the Philippines could take to go back on its words, change its policy and undermine the uninhabited and facility-free status of Ren’ai Jiao.”

“The spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines blatantly claimed that the Philippines will build a permanent structure,” Mao Ning said.

“This will severely infringe on China’s sovereignty, violate international law and the DOC. China will take resolute measures against any violation of our sovereignty and provocation, and firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” she added.

In a Dec. 26 ABS-CBN report, Aguilar was quoted as saying that a permanent structure in Ayungin could be a shelter for fisherfolk who were being blocked by China from fishing in the area.

In a separate “Teleradyo Serbisyo” interview on Dec. 12, former Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio suggested that a lighthouse or a marine research center is the civilian structure that should be built at Ayungin Shoal, located at the Spratly Islands near Kalayaan municipality in Palawan.

“We should put up a civilian structure at Ayungin because it is part of our exclusive economic zone. It is only us which has the right to build structures there under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Carpio then said.

Senate finance committee chair Sonny Angara had let slip that a budget for the civilian structure is included in the country’s P5.768-trillion national budget next year.

“There is funding there so that our ships have somewhere to go to,” Angara said on Dec. 14 in CNN Philippines’ “The Source” interview, without giving more details.

During the budget debates at the Senate in August, Sen. Francis Escudero proposed a P100-million budget for a pier and lodging facility at Ayungin for both Filipino troops and fisherfolk to take shelter during rough seas.

Escudero at the time said the permanent structure could be a “suitable” replacement for the grounded wartime ship BRP Sierra Madre.

When the 2024 budget was ratified in the Senate, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said there is funding for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to set up a marine research center in one of the West Philippine Sea features. He did not disclose the amount.

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