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Monday, March 24, 2014

PH unperturbed by China warning not to challenge naval blockade

By VICTOR REYES
MALAYA
Ayungin-ShoalTHE government is unperturbed by China’s warning against a Philippine plan to challenge a naval blockade it has put up at the disputed Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, implied that the military will push through with its plan to send civilian ships to re-supply Marines staying at the rusting BRP Sierra Madre that ran aground at the shoal in 1999.
Last March 9, Chinese Coast Guard ships drove away from the Ayungin Shoal, also called Second Thomas Shoal and referred to by China as Ren’ai Reef, two civilian ships charted by the Philippine Navy to bring supplies like food and water to the Marines. The Chinese said the vessels were carrying construction materials.
A day after the incident, gallons of drinking water were air-dropped to the area using a Navy plane. According to sources, civilian ships would be contracted anew to ferry supplies to the troops at the Ayungin Shoal.
“We reiterate that that (Ayungin shoal) is within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” security official said. The country’s EEZ extends to about 200 miles from the country’s shoreline. Ayungin is some 105 nautical miles from Palawan.
“It is but our duty to provide (supplies) for our own troops. These are Filipino settlements,” the official also said, referring to Ayungin and eight other areas occupied by Filipino troops in the disputed region.
Told that Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei warned the Philippines that it should be ready to accept the consequence of its act of challenging their blockade, the security official said: “Just ignore them.”
The Aquino government maintained that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and all actions being taken by the country are in accordance with international law and the administration’s policy of resolving the territorial dispute through peaceful and diplomatic means, said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
Ayungin is part of the Spratly Islands, a chain of islands and islets in the West Philippine Sea believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits.
The Spratly Islands are being claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Philippines and China are also disputing ownership of Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal off Zambales. Chinese Coast Guard ships gained control of the shoal following a standoff with Philippine vessels in April 2012.
Ayungin is one of several possible maritime flashpoints that could prompt the United States to intervene in defense of Asian allies troubled by increasingly assertive Chinese maritime claims.
The commander of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet and its flagship are in Manila.
Vice Adm. Robert Thomas paid a call on acting Philippine Navy chief Rear Adm. Isabelo Gador yesterday, a day after his arrival.
Philippine Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr, Gregory Gerald Fabic did not give details of discussions between Thomas and Gador.
The 7th Fleet’s flagship, the USS Blue Ridge, arrived at the South Harbor in Manila for a goodwill visit until Saturday.
Fabic said the goodwill visit highlights “the strong historic, community and military connections” between the US and Philippine military.
“The goodwill visit will include activities such as staff-to-staff talks, sport events, professional exchanges and ship tour,” said Fabic.
During professional exchanges, Fabic said Philippine Navy personnel “will be given the chance to study and familiarize with the USS Blue Ridge’s weapons and communications systems.”
The USS Blue Ridge has visited the country several times.
“The US Navy’s frequent visits manifest their firm commitment to strengthen military ties with the PH as it pushes for a rebalance to Asia-Pacific region,” said Fabic. – With Jocelyn Montemayor

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