- Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said “superficial repairs” will be made for now
- China previously said Manila reneged on a deal to remove the grounded warship from the shoal
- The Chinese Coast Guard fired a water cannon at Philippine vessels on a resupply mission in August
The Philippines has started refurbishing the grounded BRP Sierra Madre on the Second Thomas Shoal – Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines – in the Spratly Islands.
“The living condition of our soldiers in the area – it was sad to see the state of their living conditions, so we’re trying to improve that by making sure that they have at least decent sleeping facilities … decent dining facilities,” Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday. For now, “superficial repairs” will be implemented, he added.
Construction materials for fixing dilapidated parts of the grounded warship have been delivered to Ayungin Shoal, which is located around 104 nautical miles from Palawan island, and is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The army chief’s statement comes as tensions escalate between China and the Philippines over incidents near the disputed shoal.
Last week, China said it had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands, including the Second Thomas Shoal, which it calls Ren’ai Jiao. It was in response to AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar’s remarks that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Philippines’ 2016 arbitral victory already invalidated Beijing’s territorial claims in the area.
In August, China said the Philippines reneged on an agreement to remove the grounded warship from the disputed shoal. It was after the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) fired a water cannon at Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to military personnel stationed on BRP Sierra Madre.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he was unaware of such a deal.
“If there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement as of now,” he said.
The president on Tuesday said Manila was committed to “upgrading” equipment and training for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) amid “the problems we are now facing in the West Philippine Sea.”
Apart from the repair works on BRP Sierra Madre, the coast guard is also looking to acquire two 19-seater aircraft for patrolling operations in disputed waters, PCG spokesperson Rear Adm. Armando Balilo said Wednesday, state news agency PNA reported. The new airplanes would be used to support patrol vessels deployed in disputed areas across the South China Sea.
Manila has ramped up efforts to assert its territorial rights in recent months as its allies such as the U.S. and the U.K. continue to express support for the Southeast Asian nation.
Just last week, Britain’s minister of state for defense, Baroness Annabel Goldie, reaffirmed the nation’s support for the Philippines. “When a wrong is done, it’s important that people don’t feel isolated. We want the Philippines to feel supported,” she assured.
Washington said earlier this year that “an armed attack in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea, on either of their [the Philippines’] public vessels, aircraft or armed forces” will invoke the mutual defense treaty (MDT), which states the two countries will come to each other’s defense in the event of an external attack.