Friday, March 14, 2014

PHL will not withdraw ship from Ayungin Shoal - DFA

From InterAksyon (Mar 14): PHL will not withdraw ship from Ayungin Shoal - DFA

The rusting BRP Sierra Madre: despite its derelict state, the naval warship, where a small Marine contingent bravely holds fort, has served as the Philippines' last sentinel in the Ayungin Shoal, a symbol deemed nettlesome by Beijing in its expansive claim over the West Philippine Sea. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE

The Philippines will not withdraw from Ayungin Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) amid Beijing’s allegation that it agreed to remove a grounded Philippine naval ship that has served as Manila’s military detachment in the area since 1999, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.

Manila maintained the shoal, also known by its international name - Second Thomas Reef - is part of the country’s continental shelf “over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

China's Foreign Ministry claimed the Philippine government had made a commitment to withdraw the vessel from the Ayungin, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

The exchange of diplomatic barbs is the latest manifestation of the two nations' long-standing territorial feud, reignited in recent years by tense confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in two disputed shoals – Scarborough and Ayungin – off Manila’s western coasts.

Seven Filipino navy personnel are guarding the outpost that was set up in 1999 to mark Ayungin as part of Philippine territory.

Further, the DFA, in a statement, said “the BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine Naval Vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine installation in response to China's illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995.”

Mischief Reef is a Philippine-claimed territory in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea that was occupied by China in 1995.

The DFA said the installation of the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties or DOC in the South China Sea in 2002.

The DOC is a non-binding code of conduct signed by Beijing and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, of which the Philippines and other South China Sea claimants Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are members.

Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are other members of the ASEAN.

It calls on all claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupation of territories in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China nearly in its entirety despite objections from its Asian neighbors. However, DOC lacks the power to sanction states that will violate its provisions.

The Philippines filed a case against China before an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands early last year, to complain against China’s “excessive” claims. A resolution is pending.

China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia lay claim on parts or virtually the entire contested region, islands and reefs where undersea gas deposits have been discovered in several areas.

Many have feared the conflicts could erupt into a military confrontation.

China objects to third-party intervention to the disputes, particularly the involvement of the United States, which declared that it is in its national interest to ensure unfettered access to the busy sea lanes and peaceful resolution of the row.

Beijing prefers to negotiate one on one with other claimants-- which would give it advantage because of its sheer size, compared to rival claimants which are smaller and have less military force.

China is likewise pushing for the shelving of disputes and for joint development in the strategic waters pending a final resolution of the claims.

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