THE PHILIPPINES on Tuesday resupplied its military outpost at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, after the mission was blocked by the Chinese Coast Guard last week.
The Palace made the announcement a week after Chinese ships illegally blocked and discharged water cannons on Philippine-flagged boats that were carrying supplies for marine troops stationed at the Philippine-claimed atoll, which the country calls Ayungin.
“The resupply boats arrived at the Ayungin Shoal and they reached BRP Sierra Madre this noon,” acting Presidential Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told a televised news briefing in Filipino.
The successful mission proved that the country “can peacefully supply and resupply our Filipino citizens there,” he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, in a separate statement Tuesday, said the Philippine supply vessels, which are set to return to Oyster Bay in Palawan after a couple of days, did not face “any untoward incident.”
“There was a Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity which sent a rubber boat with three persons near the Sierra Madre while our boats were unloading and took photos and videos,” he said in a statement.
“I have communicated to the Chinese ambassador that we consider these acts as a form of intimidation and harassment,” he said.
BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II era vessel acquired by the Philippines in 1976, has served as a detachment for Filipino marines tasked to maintain military presence in the disputed waterway.
Mr. Nograles had said that the Philippines wants to keep its outpost at the shoal despite last week’s incident, which President Rodrigo R. Duterte called abhorrent.
Mr. Duterte told Beijing and Southeast Asian countries at a virtual meeting Monday that stakeholders must exercise self-restraint and avoid the escalation of tensions in the South China Sea.
Philippine-based fisher’s group Pamalakaya said Mr. Duterte’s statement against China came “too little, too late,” saying it was “more of a salvation of his political interest than assertion of national sovereignty.”
China has already occupied and transformed most parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone into military bases due to Mr. Duterte’s “subservient foreign policies over the last 5 years,” Pamalakaya said in a statement.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.
The sea lanes that pass through the South China Sea are the busiest, most important in the world, Marvin Ott, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said in an article published by research group Wilson Center.
In 2016, the sea lanes in the disputed area carried a third of global shipping worth about $3.4 trillion, including almost 40% of China’s total trade and 6% of America’s.
Mr. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot to China away from the US when he took office in 2016. Less than a year before he steps down, Mr. Duterte has changed his tone toward the US.
He has thanked US President Joseph R. Biden for donating coronavirus vaccines to the Philippines and restored a visiting forces agreement after suspending it for months.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives are seeking a probe on the latest sea incident.
The solons filed House Resolution 2370 to condemn the Chinese aggression and urge the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to investigate the matter.
They said Congress should work to ensure that the Philippines’ territorial integrity is intact, and the safety and economic rights of Filipinos who visit the territory are protected.
The Makabayan lawmakers said the government’s “cowardly stance and failure to uphold the country’s own valid and rightful claims” enabled China to convert the Philippines’ maritime territory into their own military facilities and threaten Filipino fishermen.
They added that other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia have actively opposed China’s hostile activities “without resulting to a real threat of invasion of war.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Russell Louis C. Ku