It’s becoming clear now why Chinese militia boats swarm and secure the waters near Ayungin Shoal. According to China, the Philippines “made a promise” to remove the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal, which the communist country might have misunderstood.
History of BRP Sierra Madre
BRP Sierra Madre is an LST-542-class tank landing ship (TLS) created for the US Navy during WW II. It used to bear the name USS Harnett County for Harnett County, North Carolina. The ship served the US Navy in WW II and the Vietnam War. It was then handed to South Vietnam’s Republic of Vietnam Navy, bearing the name RVNS My Tho.
At the end of the Vietnam War, the Philippine Navy took over Harnett County and renamed the ship BRP Sierra Madre. It got its name from the Sierra Mountain range, the longest mountain range in the country, extending more than 540 kilometres. Called the “backbone of Luzon,” it consists of the biggest continuing expanse of old-growth tropical rainforest in the country. This enchanting mountain range stretches to about 1.4 million hectares of forest, constituting 40% of the country’s forest cover.
On May 9, 1997, the battered tank landing ship washed up on a reef near the Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands. It became stranded and cannot remove itself with its own power. From that day on, the landing ship became an outpost to reinforce the Philippines’ claim to sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.
No Promises Made
China didn’t apologise for its recent misbehaviour towards the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) vessels bound for Ayungin Shoal to deliver supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre crew. The Chinese government stressed what the China Coast Guard (CCG) did was only appropriate because they claimed that Philippine ships encroached into the Ayungin Shoal, violating China’s law.
Additionally, China claimed that the Philippines promised to pull out BRP Sierra Madre from its current location. This wasn’t the first incident they fired water cannon at the Philippine military’s boats that will deliver food and supply to their troops stationed in the BRP Sierra Madre.
Kalayaan Group of Islands is a structural part of the Philippines, comprising the Ayungin Shoal. Likewise, it’s inside the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, which the Philippines has sovereign rights, jurisdiction, and sovereignty.
“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… and let me go further, if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now,” said Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
According to AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar, China must behave. If they continue with their hostile activities with an unfounded scenario, the AFP will resist. He said that the China Coast Guard must behave and not turn to aggressive actions and violate international laws that could compromise people’s lives.
Shoring Up BRP Sierra Madre
Meanwhile, the Philippines is regarding many options to fortify its control on the disputed Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea. It includes restoring the rusting BRP Sierra Madre used as a military post.
“All courses of action to prolong our stay there are being considered… one of them is refurbishment. It is our prayer that there will be no water cannon incident, there will be less aggressive reception from the other side especially because of the international attention that this incident has generated,” said Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, chief of the Philippine Western Command.
Currently, the Philippines’ urgency is to continue the rotation and resupply mission for the AFP troops on the atoll, to take place in 14 days.
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