Political analysts and maritime law experts doubted China’s sincerity in defusing tensions in the South China Sea as Beijing continued to push for the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal.
Over the weekend Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the Philippines to work with China to seek an effective way to defuse tensions after its Coast Guard illegally used water cannons on Philippine vessels which were part of a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal.
Local experts, however, expressed doubts about Beijing’s sincerity given that just last week it accused the Philippines of seeking to “permanently occupy” the Ayungin Shoal, as it demanded the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre which it claimed was promised by the Philippines.
The BRP Sierra Madre has been at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.
Ayungin is located 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Walang any evidence na pinangako natin na aalisin natin ang BRP Sierra Madre, wala,” Renato De Castro, a political analyst and professor from the De La Salle University (DLSU), said in a report on GMA’s “24 Oras Weekend” on Sunday.
(There is no evidence that we promised to remove the BRP Sierra Madre. None.)
“Maraming collective hallucination itong bansa na ito, no (This country has a lot of collective hallucination),” Dr. Froilan Calilung, a professor at the Political Science Department of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) said in the same report.
Malaca?ang has since come out to clarify that the Philippine government had made no promise to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal at the West Philippine Sea.
China’s remarks came after its Coast Guard used “dangerous maneuvers and illegal use of water cannons” against vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard which were escorting indigenous boats to deliver food, water, fuel, and other supplies to military troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre.
According to LTJG Richard Lonogan, the team leader of Unaizah May 2 which was one of the vessels in the incident, it would seem as though the Chinese ships were aiming for their smokestacks.
“So ‘pag napasukan kasi ng tubig ‘yan, didiretso ‘yan sa makina. ‘Pag dumiretso ‘yan sa makina, ibig sabihin wala na tayong propulsion,” he said.
(If water enters that, it will go straight to the engine and if that happens, we no longer have propulsion.)
“Galit tayo don sa ginawa nila… Hindi nila kino-consider ‘yung buhay ng mga nandon,” LTJG Darwin Datwin said.
(We are mad at what they did… They do not consider the lives of the people there.)
Several countries — led by the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada — expressed support for Manila and criticized China’s actions, the latest in the string of several reported incidents of harassment against Philippine vessels this year.
Beijing, meanwhile, claimed that the Philippine ships intruded into the Ayungin Shoal and violated its laws when it conducted the resupply mission.
“‘Yung ginagawa nga ng China, nag-iingat sila na hindi ito magmukhang blockade, na full-blown blockade… ‘Yun talaga ang style nila, ika nga, para hindi masabi ng mundo na they are committing an act of aggression,” maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said.
(What China is doing, they are being cautious that this does not look like a blockade, a full-blown blockade. That is their style so the world cannot say that they are committing an act of aggression.)
For his part, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said China should not resort to hostility as it will only be blamed for the consequences.
“They should not resort to actions that are hostile, that are in violation of international law, that will endanger people’s lives,” he said. — Jon Viktor Cabuenas/DVM, GMA Integrated News