Saturday, April 5, 2014

Marines to continue manning outpost at Ayungin Shoal

By Rene Acosta
Ayungin-Shoal-Marines-in-BRP-Sierra-MadreTHE military will continue to maintain its presence at the Ayungin Shoal and assert the country’s sovereignty over the area, the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, said on Tuesday as he dismissed China’s warning that the rotation of the Marines over the weekend was a provocative action.
“What is provocative there? We just wanted to resupply our people using civilian ships. It is they who were provocative. It is them that are blocking [the shoal] with Coast Guard ships. They have a lot of Coast Guard vessels there and even PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Navy ships,” Bautista said.
“We will stand our ground. We will stand by our [actions]. We will assert our sovereignty, our rights,” he added.
Bautista was at the 27th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command in Tarlac on Tuesday. The Nolcom is under Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang.
The Armed Forces rotated its seven-man team of Marines at the Ayungin Shoal on Saturday, using a ship owned by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in what it dubbed as a “secret mission,” but which was joined by selected journalists and arranged days ahead of the trip.
China said that in rotating the Filipino troops in the full view and company of journalists, the military has created a tension, especially that it was made on the eve that the country filed its memorial on the arbitration case against Beijing before the UN.
“The Philippine side will certainly face consequences for its provocative actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said.
But Bautista said the military is prepared for China’s response to the rotation and over the filing of the arbitral case.
“We will be ready for any consequences. The fact that we pursued our case [at the UN] means that we are prepared to face any consequences,” he said.
“We will assert our sovereignty in that place. We have every right to do that, it is our right to do that,” he added.
Bautista defended the replacement of the seven marines at the shoal on the eve of the filing of the memorial, adding that such exercise should have been taken weeks ago had the ship carrying the troops not blocked by Chinese Coast Guard vessels.
“It was very much delayed already. They have been there since November. They [Chinese] blocked our resupply on March 9. They [marines] have been there for long so they needed to be reprovisioned. There is nothing sinister about that timing,” he said.
“We will continue to resupply our people there, we will maintain our people in Ayungin,” he added.
Bautista said the military will “not bow to the terror” brought about by China.
Bautista also defended the decision to allow selected journalists to tag along during the rotation of the seven-man team of Marines guarding Ayungin Shoal, calling it as a part of the “strategy” in addressing Chinese threat.
“Please understand that we are executing a strategy, these are all part of it,” he told military reporters, admitting that using journalists was a part of their tactics in dealing with China, particularly in the case of Ayungin.
The Armed Forces public affairs officer, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, had told at least two members of the Defense Press Corps, the accredited organization of journalists covering the defense department, that keeping the invitation to the selected journalists under wraps was due to the fact the the trip was a “secret mission.”
“Zagala claimed it was a secret mission because they were avoiding its leak to the Chinese,” one of the reporters said.
The military has a standing policy against travel by by journalist to any of the small bodies of land being claimed by both the Philippines and China.

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