Soldiers raise flag in Ayungin

Philippine Marines deployed on the BRP Sierra Madre take part in a flag-raising ceremony on the ship in Ayungin Shoal the other day.

MANILA – With four Chinese vessels nearby, soldiers on a rusty Navy ship raised the Philippine flag and sang the national anthem on Sunday morning on Ayungin Shoal.

The singing became louder in the final line, which declares that in the face of oppression, Filipinos will happily die for their country.

“I got goose bumps,” a journalist who joined the military officers told The STAR.

In the shadow of the Chinese Coast Guard ships, the Filipinos rallied to the flag.

Two Chinese vessels on Saturday blocked a Philippine civilian ship, the BFAR AM-700, from bringing food supplies to troops stationed at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in Palawan. The shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Despite the Chinese harassment, the civilian vessel managed to reach the BRP Sierra Madre, a Navy ship that has been aground on Ayungin.

The military reinforced its forces in Ayungin as part of the Navy’s regular troop rotation.The civilian vessel carried Marines who replaced their colleagues who had spent five months guarding the country’s territorial waters.

The troop rotation is usually held every three months. But the troops had to stay for five months because Chinese ships were blocking efforts to bring in new military personnel.

China’s latest bullying of Philippine ships will not stop the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) from pursuing the country’s territorial rights through diplomatic channels.

“The government remains focused on resolving the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea through diplomatic and peaceful means, “ Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said yesterday.

Malacañang is leaving it up to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to file the necessary diplomatic protest against Beijing, although the issue will be studied and discussed among Cabinet members to come out with a reasonable protest.

DFA spokesperson Charles Jose said they are still considering whether Manila would file another diplomatic protest against China regarding Saturday’s incident.

Chinese vessels used water cannon to drive away Filipino fishermen from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on Jan. 27.

The Philippines protested both incidents with China, but Chinese officials maintained that Panatag Shoal and Ayungin Shoal are part of their territory.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippines yesterday submitted its memorial to the arbitral tribunal that is hearing the case it brought against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in January last year.

Asked if the Philippines is ready to push for arbitration even without the support of its neighbors, Valte said the government is determined to fight for what is right and fair.

She said the government is inspired by the support it has been getting from the international community.

The Philippines is prepared for any possible sanction China will impose, the Palace official added.

Vice President Jejomar Binay urged China to refrain from doing actions that will raise tension in the disputed Ayungin Shoal.

“China must consider that a peaceful resolution of territorial conflict would be impossible without mutual respect,” Binay said.

“While we value our strong ties with China, this is not at the expense of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The Philippines has raised the issue before the UN arbitral tribunal.

As a member of the community of nations, Binay said, China can only be expected to respect the proceedings and abide by the tribunal’s decision.

He said Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.

“It is our responsibility and right to replenish supplies for our naval and marine contingent in the area. We are confident that China will respect our rights and refrain from any action that will heighten our territorial disputes,” he said.

The Vice President also lauded the brave Marines who continue to assert and protect the country’s territory “in the face of a superior force.”

“I ask the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to extend to them all the needed support, and I encourage our countrymen to pray for their safety. May their courage never falter,” he said.

Meanwhile, party-list group Bayan Muna denounced China’s “newest provocative actions” on Ayungin Shoal, saying these do “not foster a conducive atmosphere for multilateral or bilateral talks.”

The group was referring to Chinese Coast Guard’s harassment of a Philippine civilian vessel that carried supplies to a small contingent of Marines stationed at a grounded Navy ship on the shoal.

“While it is good that all forms of talks to peacefully settle the dispute between the two countries should be utilized, the Philippines should not be strong armed by China or any other country to do its bidding. Such provocative actions should be avoided so that tensions would not run high,” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

“We also know that China’s actions have only escalated when the United States announced its pivot to the Asia Pacific to countercheck China’s growth and reassert its dominance in the region,” he said.

He said the Aquino government should consider this in its talks with the US for enhanced defense cooperation.

“China may be a threat but we, however, consider the US as the main threat as can be seen in its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The US wants political and economic hegemony in Asia, including our oil-rich territories, and is merely using the Spratly issue to justify its intervention and pivot to Asia,” he said.

Another congressman, Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City, said China could be taking a cue from Russia as far as dealing and resolving its maritime territorial conflict with the Philippines and its other Asian neighbors are concerned.

He was referring to recent moves by Russia to annex Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.

Gatchalian said the similar openly aggressive and defiant actions that China is taking regarding the maritime dispute should be a cause for concern.

“Let us remember that both China and Russia are major international players and they both have the capacity and the capability to change and shake up the current world order,” he said.

“What also concerns me is that China opted to keep silent and refused to join the international community in condemning what Russia had done to Crimea,” he said.

“While I admire our national leadership for choosing to take the path of peace by filing formal complaints before the proper international tribunals, China’s somewhat uncooperative acts should serve as red flags for ourforeign policymakers” he added.