By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Sorsogon Gov. and senatorial candidate Chiz Escudero is urging the Department of National Defense (DND) to strengthen its presence in the Ayungin Shoal by installing sustainable structures in the Philippine territory.
“Amid renewed aggressiveness from China, the Philippine government needs more than a rusting World War II-era ship to stand as the symbol of its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea. It should invest in a more functional permanent structure to serve as our military outpost,” Escudero said.
The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine Naval vessel, has hosted a small contingent of military personnel to assert Manila’s claim to the disputed waters since 1999. The Philippine military ran the ship aground the Second Thomas Shoal or Ayungin Shoal, 196 kilometers from Palawan, in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef.
On November 16, the Chinese Coast Guard attacked two civilian supply boats carrying food for the Marines stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre. Following the water cannon attack, China reiterated its call for the Philippines to remove the ship from Ayungin Shoal.
“Pagkatapos ng pamamahiya na naman sa atin ng Tsina, kailangan natin magpakitang-gilas naman. Baka isang dahilan na hindi nila tayo nirerespeto dahil nakikita ng Tsina na mukhang kawawa ang military outpost natin doon. Our soldiers—and our nation—deserve better,” Escudero said.
“Let us show our commitment to protecting our sovereignty by building sustainable and dignified structures that will allow our military to properly defend our rights to the West Philippine Sea. I strongly urge the DND to include this in their modernization budget for 2022,” he said.
The DND has asked Congress for a P297 billion budget for next year, a huge chunk of which will be allocated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization and retirees’ pension.
According to Escudero, Sec. 2 of the AFP Modernization Act states that it is “the policy of the State to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to a level where it can effectively and fully perform its constitutional mandate to uphold the sovereignty and preserve the patrimony of the Republic of the Philippines.” This includes the “relocation, improvement, and construction of bases and other facilities.”
“The law is very clear on this: the modernization fund is there precisely to equip and empower our military to defend our sovereignty. And nowhere is that more needed than in the West Philippine Sea,” Escudero said.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that China’s claims in the South China Sea based on the nine-dash line it uses to define its territory had no legal basis. Beijing, however, has continued to harass Filipino fishermen and aggressively conduct military activities in the area. (ai/mtvn)