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Expert: China coast guard ship poised to block PH supply mission

A China Coast Guard ship was spotted at the Panganiban Reef on Monday morning and is expected to block a new resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, maritime security expert Ray Powell said on his Twitter/X account.

Powell’s tweet said Chinese coast guard ship 3303 was arriving at Mischief Reef and would “likely participate in expected blockade activity vs. the next Philippines resupply of near BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, together with maritime militia also active in the area.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has received a similar report and soldiers are already prepared should there be a repeat of the water cannon incident on August 5, a “24 Oras” television report added.

“They will block our resupply ships with several ships which are coast guard, including their fishing vessels, their maritime militia, to divert us from reaching the Ayungin Shoal,” AFP chief of staff General Romeo Brawner told GMA Integrated News.

OSPREY RIDE. People get on board a MV-22B Osprey aircraft in Tarampitao Airfield in Rizal, Palawan on August 21 as a part of the Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2023 between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Australian Defence Force called Exercise Alon. AFP

To protect the soldiers who will figure in the mission, Brawner declined to give further details on the resupply run. He said the military would observe tolerance and not retaliate should the mission encounter aggressive behavior.

“We will restrain ourselves. Our ships are also equipped with water cannons but we don’t use them to attack. Instead, we use it to save lives. An example is when a ship catches fire, we use our water cannon,” Brawner said.

This developed as Brawner Jr. said the Philippines exposed Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea during the recent Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense conference in Fiji earlier this month.

“We mentioned China’s activities in our discussion. We exposed them to different countries,” Brawner told radio dzBB.

The conference was attended by defense officials from over 20 countries, including the deputy chief of China’s defense force.

Brawner said China responded by saying they follow international rules, that the South China Sea is theirs, and that the 2016 arbitration ruling that favored the Philippines is “invalid and unacceptable.”

China also said that they will continue their activities in the South China Sea, Brawner added.

Brawner said the AFP will conduct another resupply mission for the Filipino Marines stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal.

“We cannot give the details of our operations but we will definitely have a resupply mission because we cannot neglect our soldiers,” he said.

“Let’s remember we occupy eight other islands here in Kalayaan group of islands [and] all of them… have soldiers so we have to resupply them regularly,” he added.

On Aug. 5, Chinese vessels fired water cannons at and blocked Filipino boats trying to resupply the Marines on the BRP Sierra Madre.

Beijing claimed that the Philippine ships intruded into their territory and violated their laws when it conducted the resupply mission—which is contrary to the decision of the arbitral court.

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.

In response to the Chinese claims, Brawner said, “Well you have historical claims on the South China Sea, we also have historical claims on the West Philippine Sea,” Brawner added.

Brawner said some of the countries were taken aback by the blunt presentation.

“So the other countries were really surprised, but the US, Australia, and when Japan came to me and I talked to them. They said, that was very gutsy but you did the right thing they said,” Brawner said. “We were waiting for you to do that. Of course, I said we have to speak up.”

In July 2016, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, based on a case filed by the Philippines, junked China’s nine-dash line claim virtually covering the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

China, however, rejected the Philippines’ call to comply with the ruling, calling the decision “illegal and invalid.”

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday renewed his push to expedite the procurement of defense equipment.

“Government procurement reforms should lead to the expedited purchase of defense equipment the country needs to protect its territory, especially from the illegal incursions of China in the West Philippine Sea,” Zubiri said.

He called for the removal of bottlenecks in the government procurement of goods and services. He directed his call to the country’s economic managers who appeared before senators last week to defend the proposed P5.768 trillion national budget for 2024.

The Senate leader said the acquisition process can still be “stringent but speedy so that recipients will get the right equipment at the right price at the right time.”

Complementing the passage of amendments to the Government Procurement Reform Act, Zubiri said, is the pending Senate bill on boosting the domestic defense industry.

Lamenting the state of the country’s Navy and Coast Guard, Zubiri said, “We need to procure the best and not necessarily the cheapest equipment because in military spending, the cheapest is not the best if it will soon fall apart.”

“There are several allies who would like to give us slightly used, not necessarily brand new, but good equipment so our law must be able to respond to this reality. Otherwise, the acquisition will not push through for lack of legal basis,” he added.

“You know, when you buy an aircraft, even a 10-year-old aircraft, as long as it is well maintained, it can still be durable within the next 30 years,” Zubiri said.

Being brand new should not always be equated with quality, he said, citing “the purchase of police vehicles from another country which were bugged by breakdowns and lack of spare parts.”

Zubiri also pushed for the passage of Senate Bill No. 315 or the “Philippine Defense Industry Development Act,” a measure envisioned to promote the local production of defense equipment and materiel.

“By encouraging the growth of local enterprises supplying defense equipment and hardware to our AFP, we become less reliant on other countries to fill out our defense requirements,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri also said it will also generate employment for many Filipinos in the long run.

Senator Francis Escudero on Monday said he backed the plan of the US, Japan, and Australia to conduct joint naval exercises in the South China Sea.

“I support the conduct of joint drills with our allies because it shows solidarity with them ( and them with us,” said Escudero.

He said it is also an indication that the Philippines is not alone in enforcing its claim and sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

Over the weekend, the Department of National Defense (DND) said it is looking forward to further bolstering its defense partnerships with South Korea, which is one of the country’s biggest suppliers of military equipment in the ongoing AFP Modernization Program.

The statement was issued after the newly appointed Ambassador Lee Sang-hwa paid a courtesy call to Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro on Aug. 17.

“The secretary also recognized the opportunity to diversify defense cooperation with the ROK [Republic of Korea], which has been among the Philippines’ largest partners in terms of defense materiel and logistics,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in the same statement.

South Korea had supplied the 12 FA-50PH Fighting Eagle light jet fighters to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) during the incumbency of then President Benigno Aquino III along with the two brand-new missile frigates for the Philippine Navy (PN) during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.

South Korea has also won the contract and is now building two more corvettes and six offshore patrol vessels for the Navy.

“Noting the enduring friendship and cooperation between our two countries across various fields and concerns, Secretary Teodoro conveyed his deep appreciation for the ROK’s assistance to the Philippines in addressing issues such as internal security, natural calamities, and capacity-building,” Andolong said.

Andolong also said the two officials discussed the anticipated state visit to the Philippines of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The DND spokesperson said the occasion will further reaffirm the commitment of the two countries to strengthening their long-standing relations and further explore ways of building shared opportunities.

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