Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

Photo released by the AFP Western Command last November shows some of the Filipino troops on board the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as their detachment at Ayungin Shoal. The troops were waving goodbye to then Wescom chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, who visited the nine Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands last November, before he retired last April.

The Philippines will not pull out its troops from Ayungin Shoal despite the presence of a Chinese warship and will fight to the last man, if the situation worsens, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Thursday.

In a press briefing, Gazmin said China still has two Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships and a navy frigate at the shoal as of Wednesday, apparently to scare Philippine troops.

“Maaring ganoon ang message nila, eh tayo naman up to the last soldier standing, we will fight for what is ours,” the defense chief said.

Asked if the government was considering pulling out the troops from Ayungin, Gazmin said: “Hindi, atin ‘yan eh. Kasama nga ‘yan ng ating continental shelf, bakit tayo aalis?”

Resupply still on

The military has even scheduled a resupply mission for troops who are stationed at the shoal, he said.

“Wala naman tayong problema. Wala pa tayong problema, ibig sabihin. We are due for replenishment and rotation of troops, gagawin natin yan dahil ito, dati naman nating ginagawa, ito ay routinary, at ang nagdadala niyan ay isang navy ship na unarmed. Ito eh logistics vessel, so i don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” Gazmin said.

“As far as we’re concerned, hindi disputed ‘yan, atin ‘yan eh,” he said, stressing that Ayungin is only 110 to 120 nautical miles away from Rizal, Palawan.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides countries with a 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone.”

Aside from the frigate and CMS ships, China had also sent at least 10 fishing vessels and dinghies to the shoal.

‘Clear intrusion’

But what was glaring, according to Gazmin, was the deployment of a military ship.

“Maliwanag na intrusion ‘yan, violation ‘yan, dahil hindi na ‘yan civilian ship, kumbaga sumobra na ‘yung kanyang violation, pumasok na siya sa ating territory,” he said.

Photographs of the Chinese ships, taken by Philippine military airplanes, have been sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is in charge of filing diplomatic protests.

“There are ways of doing it, right now we are doing it legally,” Gazmin said. (John Roson)

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