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‘Grounding ships an option’

PH mulls its own militia fleet as 400 foreign vessels spotted in WPS

PRESSCON IN PALAWAN. Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. (right) joins AFP Western Command leader Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos in a press conference at the Wescom headquarters in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on Thursday. AFP Photo

Military officials on Thursday said they would leave it to “higher authorities” to consider the proposal by a former Defense chief to ground more ships in the disputed South China Sea islands amid reports that some 400 foreign vessels were sighted in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The military is also looking to put up its maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea to strengthen its presence in the area, days afterthe Chinese coast guard used water cannons on a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal, with Chinese navy ships and maritime militia attempting a blockade.

AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner answered in the affirmative if putting up a militia fleet was part of the country’s plans, with China and Vietnam having their own.

On Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM) said 85 percent of the foreign vessels spotted in the West Philippine Sea were Chinese.

The suggestion to ground more ship came from former Defense secretary Orly Mercado, who served in the Cabinet of President Joseph Estrada.

Mercado agreed with current officials that Manila never promised toremove the BRP Sierra Madre 20 years ago as China claims. The warship was deliberately run aground in Ayungin shoal to exert Philippine control over it, after China illegally occupied Panganiban or Mischief reef in 1995.

The Estrada administration planned to run more ships aground in “strategic places” in the South China Sea, but an uprising ousted Estrada before the plan was put into effect, Mercado added.

In a text message to Manila Standard, AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said that the decision whether

to ground more ships to create more outposts in the area is up to the higher-ups.

“We leave that decision to higher authorities. We follow instructions,” Aguilar said.

AFP WESCOM chief Vice-Admiral Alberto Carlos said that all options are being considered so they can comply with the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. not to leave Ayungin Shoal.

“All options are being considered. We thank the former SND (Mercado) for that suggestion. Everything is being considered to [enable us to] comply with the President’s order that we will not leave Ayungin,” Carlos said in a press conference at WESCOM headquarters in Palawan.

“I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to give details on what options… we are considering,” he said.

Carlos said that in Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef alone, there were 191 Chinese vessels.

Aguilar also said the Philippines has the right to repair and develop the BRP Sierra Madre if needed.

The comment was made in response to Chinese claims that Filipino supply ships were carrying construction supplies to upgrade or repair the grounded warship.

Aguilar also maintained that the Filipino supply boats were only carrying water, food and other supplies during their rotation and resupply mission.

But he added in Filipino: “Now, if there is a need to develop or repair BRP Sierra Madre because it now old and rusty, it is well within our rights because the BRP Sierra Madre is still a commissioned ship, an active vessel, and it is the obligation of the AFP to repair and maintain it. No one should interfere with this should we decide to do it.”

He also said the AFP is committed to resupplying military personnel manning the BRP Sierra Madre and other features in the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela said it is important to show loyalty to the country given the current situations, after Chinese ships used water cannons and repeatedly blocked Philippine vessels during a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

“If you are a Filipino, whether in government or private sector, regardless of your politics, defending and making excuses for China’s aggressive behavior should deem you unpatriotic, and a traitor to the Philippines and to our people,” Tarriela said in a Twitter post.

“While I recognize freedom of speech as an important right guaranteed by our Constitution, it should not be misused as a means to justify unpatriotic actions by acting as China’s mouthpiece,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. also said there is no existing agreement between the Philippines and China to remove BRPSierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, and said if there was such a deal, he would rescind it.

His remarks came after Beijing earlier claimed that Manila had “repeatedly promised to tow away” the grounded warship from Ayungin Shoal, a feature within the Kalayaan Island Group less than 200 nautical miles off Palawan.

“I’m not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory its ship, in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal,” Mr. Marcos said in a video message released by the Presidential Communications Office.

The President added that he would repeal any commitment to move the ship, should there be an existing agreement between the Philippines and China.

At the same time, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said hesupported the President 100 percent on the issue of the BRP Sierra Madre.

“Make no mistake, Ayungin Shoal is Philippine territory and the Chinese are squatting all around it,” Zubiri said.

Senators Francis Escudero and JV Ejercito also aired their support for the President’s stand.

Also on Thursday, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte supported the passage of a bill that establishes sea lanes in the West Philippine Sea, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the decision of the international arbitral tribunal that threw out China’s nine-dash-line claim.

Villafuerte asked his colleagues in Congress to help the administration better protect the country against Beijing’s increasingly incursive maneuvers in Philippine waters by writing new legislation establishing the country’s archipelagic sea lanes as espoused in UNCLOS and other relevant international conventions.

He issued this statement as the US, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom (UK), Germany and the European Union (EU) separately condemned the recent Chinese harassment in the West Philippine Sea.

By Vince Lopez, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

MILITARY officials on Thursday said they would leave it to “higher authorities” to consider the proposal by a former Defense chief to ground more ships in the disputed South China Sea islands amid reports that some 400 foreign vessels were sighted in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The military is also looking to put up its maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea to strengthen its presence in the area, days afterthe Chinese coast guard used water cannons on a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal, with Chinese navy ships and maritime militia attempting a blockade.

AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner answered in the affirmative if putting up a militia fleet was part of the country’s plans, with China and Vietnam having their own.

On Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM) said 85 percent of the foreign vessels spotted in the West Philippine Sea were Chinese.

The suggestion to ground more ship came from former Defense secretary Orly Mercado, who served in the Cabinet of President Joseph Estrada.

Mercado agreed with current officials that Manila never promised toremove the BRP Sierra Madre 20 years ago as China claims. The warship was deliberately run aground in Ayungin shoal to exert Philippine control over it, after China illegally occupied Panganiban or Mischief reef in 1995.

The Estrada administration planned to run more ships aground in “strategic places” in the South China Sea, but an uprising ousted Estrada before the plan was put into effect, Mercado added.

In a text message to Manila Standard, AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said that the decision whether

to ground more ships to create more outposts in the area is up to the higher-ups.

“We leave that decision to higher authorities. We follow instructions,” Aguilar said.

AFP WESCOM chief Vice-Admiral Alberto Carlos said that all options are being considered so they can comply with the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. not to leave Ayungin Shoal.

“All options are being considered. We thank the former SND (Mercado) for that suggestion. Everything is being considered to [enable us to] comply with the President’s order that we will not leave Ayungin,” Carlos said in a press conference at WESCOM headquarters in Palawan.

“I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to give details on what options… we are considering,” he said.

Carlos said that in Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef alone, there were 191 Chinese vessels.

Aguilar also said the Philippines has the right to repair and develop the BRP Sierra Madre if needed.

The comment was made in response to Chinese claims that Filipino supply ships were carrying construction supplies to upgrade or repair the grounded warship.

Aguilar also maintained that the Filipino supply boats were only carrying water, food and other supplies during their rotation and resupply mission.

But he added in Filipino: “Now, if there is a need to develop or repair BRP Sierra Madre because it now old and rusty, it is well within our rights because the BRP Sierra Madre is still a commissioned ship, an active vessel, and it is the obligation of the AFP to repair and maintain it. No one should interfere with this should we decide to do it.”

He also said the AFP is committed to resupplying military personnel manning the BRP Sierra Madre and other features in the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Jay Tarriela said it is important to show loyalty to the country given the current situations, after Chinese ships used water cannons and repeatedly blocked Philippine vessels during a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

“If you are a Filipino, whether in government or private sector, regardless of your politics, defending and making excuses for China’s aggressive behavior should deem you unpatriotic, and a traitor to the Philippines and to our people,” Tarriela said in a Twitter post.

“While I recognize freedom of speech as an important right guaranteed by our Constitution, it should not be misused as a means to justify unpatriotic actions by acting as China’s mouthpiece,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. also said there is no existing agreement between the Philippines and China to remove BRPSierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, and said if there was such a deal, he would rescind it.

His remarks came after Beijing earlier claimed that Manila had “repeatedly promised to tow away” the grounded warship from Ayungin Shoal, a feature within the Kalayaan Island Group less than 200 nautical miles off Palawan.

“I’m not aware of any such arrangement or agreement that the Philippines will remove from its own territory its ship, in this case, the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal,” Mr. Marcos said in a video message released by the Presidential Communications Office.

The President added that he would repeal any commitment to move the ship, should there be an existing agreement between the Philippines and China.

At the same time, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said hesupported the President 100 percent on the issue of the BRP Sierra Madre.

“Make no mistake, Ayungin Shoal is Philippine territory and the Chinese are squatting all around it,” Zubiri said.

Senators Francis Escudero and JV Ejercito also aired their support for the President’s stand.

Also on Thursday, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte supported the passage of a bill that establishes sea lanes in the West Philippine Sea, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the decision of the international arbitral tribunal that threw out China’s nine-dash-line claim.

Villafuerte asked his colleagues in Congress to help the administration better protect the country against Beijing’s increasingly incursive maneuvers in Philippine waters by writing new legislation establishing the country’s archipelagic sea lanes as espoused in UNCLOS and other relevant international conventions.

He issued this statement as the US, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom (UK), Germany and the European Union (EU) separately condemned the recent Chinese harassment in the West Philippine Sea.

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