Emmanuel Tupas – The Philippine Star
February 7, 2024 | 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — Militant groups on Tuesday said China must withdraw its ships from the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as well as its claims over islands based on bogus sovereignty.
At least 150 representatives from various cause-oriented groups made the call as they held a rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Makati City in protest of Beijing’s aggression against Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal and other areas of the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone or EEZ.
Antonio Tinio, spokesperson for Pilipinong Nagkakaisa para sa Soberanya, said China should withdraw all its ships, including its navy, coast guard and maritime militia from the country’s territorial waters.
“We demand that they dismantle the military installations that they have built on artificial reefs in our waters. This is the key to lowering tensions in the region,” he said in a statement.
Tinio noted that China’s assertion of sovereignty is fraudulent and will never be accepted by the Philippines as well as the other countries that enjoy sovereign rights to the waters of the WPS under international law such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“China’s actions against Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea are not only a violation of our sovereignty but also a blatant disregard for the livelihoods and well-being of thousands of Filipino families whose livelihood depends on access to their traditional fishing grounds,” Tinio said.
He condemned China’s brazen violation of the country’s sovereign rights and its disrespect for international law.
Apart from China, Tinio said the United States must also dismantle its military installations and pull out its forces from Philippine soil.
Fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said China should be held accountable for the actions of its naval personnel who held and forced Filipino fishermen to throw back their catch into the sea.
Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap said China has no right to prevent Filipinos from fishing in the country’s own waters. He said President Marcos should also shame the black for his lack of assertiveness.
Hicap said Marcos only relies on other foreign superpowers which only leads to escalation of hostilities, thus threatening the security of fishermen.
Resupply mission successful
The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed yesterday that its latest rotation and resupply (RORE) mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal carried out over the weekend did not encounter any resistance from Chinese ships and maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
However, amid China’s claims that it has been intentionally standing back, the military attributed the successful delivery of provisions to troops in the old grounded warship to efforts of operational commanders who oversaw the mission.
Philippine Navy spokesman for the WPS Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said the latest RORE mission was conducted Friday or Saturday with supply boat Unaizah Mae and the Philippine Coast Guard.
“There was the presence of Chinese Coast Guard which did not do any illegal actions. There was a monitored maritime militia in the vicinity. I would not like to use the word shadowing, I would like to use the presence of,” he told reporters in a briefing.
Trinidad noted that Western Command and Naval Forces West has been conducting regular rotation of troops and reprovisioning of forces and it is “not the first time that there was no interference, no illegal moves by the maritime militia, their coast guard or the (People’s Liberation Army Navy). So we have had activities in the past RORE missions that there was no interference at all.”
He said there were 28 RORE missions to various parts or features of the WPS last year and less than half encountered interference from China.
For Ayungin Shoal, Trinidad said there were 14 missions in 2023 and only three encountered illegal actions or harassment by the maritime militia or the China Coast Guard.
“All the others were unimpeded, no illegal actions were conducted,” he said, clarifying that harassment refer to water cannon incidents, illegal maneuvers, and presence or actions not in accordance with the rules that would endanger the ship and/or crew.
AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margarete Padilla also said that “recently, we have successfully sent provisions to our troops and to include the local community in Pag-asa Island, stationed personnel at Lawak, Kota, Likas, Parola, Panata and Patag Islands.”
“Ayungin Shoal and Rizal Reef were also resupplied. This is on top of the efforts of other government agencies in the performance of their mandate of supporting the local communities and fisherfolk in the WPS,” she said.
Whether it is carried out by sea or by air, Padilla said RORE missions “are all part of the operational mix on how the commanders implement their regular rotations and resupply missions.
“Notwithstanding the obstacle and challenges that may arise during the missions, we will not be deterred from exercising our legal rights over maritime zones including Ayungin Shoal and ensure the welfare of our men in these maritime features. Your AFP will remain committed to the performance of our mandate as protector of the people and the state,” Padilla said. — Michael Punongbayan