“NO one can legally prevent us from exercising our rights. Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas,” said Senator Christopher “Bong” Go in reaction to the Chinese government’s demand for the Philippines to remove the grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal.
The shoal, which is located in the West Philippine Sea, recently featured in an incident when do Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water cannoned supply ships of the Philippines intended to bring fresh food supply for its military personnel stationed in the grounded old Philippine Navy ship last November 16.
“I find this demand not acceptable. The Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands—an integral part of the Philippines. It belongs to us and it is ours to protect and use for the benefit of our people,” Go, who also sits as a Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation. He is also presently a member of the Upper Chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“Ipaglaban natin ang ating karapatan sa maayos at mapayapang paraan. I continue to urge our government to stay the course in asserting our national interests,” he further asserted.
“I urge all stakeholders to exercise restraint and avoid increasing the tension and, instead, abide by our commitments and duties under international law. This is how responsible members of the international community should rightly comport themselves,” Go also added.
Consistent with his independent foreign policy, President Rodrigo Duterte raised the matter of the Ayungin Shoal incident during the ASEAN-China Special Summit last Monday, saying “We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership.”
“There is simply no other way out of this colossal problem but the rule of law,” the President added.
At least three major powers issued statements of support for the Philippines following the shoal incident. The United States reaffirmed its treaty commitment to the Philippines, considered as its ally, saying that an “armed attack on Philippine public vessels in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Japan reiterated the need to peaceably settle disputes based on international law while Australia expressed concern over destabilizing incidents and reaffirmed its support for the Philippines and the 2016 arbitral ruling.
In 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” argument used to claim huge parts of the West Philippine Sea.
In 1999, the Philippine military ran the World War II-era cruiser Sierra Madre aground on Ayungin Shoal to bolster the country’s claim and create a safe haven for a small force of armed personnel.