By Priam Nepomuceno

ILLEGAL. Some of the food supplies airdropped to BRP Sierra Madre on May 19, 2024, intercepted by the China Coast Guard officers but eventually thrown away. The Chinese claimed Filipino soldiers pointed guns at them but the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it was not deliberate and was a self-defense stance. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – Filipino soldiers aboard the ship BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in the West Philippine Sea’s (WPS) Ayungin Shoal have the right to defend themselves, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said Tuesday.

Brawner said Filipino soldiers aboard BRP Sierra Madre are indeed armed because it is a commissioned Philippine Navy ship and authorized to have weapons.

“On the issue of the pointing of the guns, we are denying that any of our soldiers pointed deliberately their guns to any of the Chinese in the RHIBs (rigid hull inflatable boats),” Brawner said in a media briefing, reacting to Beijing’s claim that Filipino soldiers pointed their guns at China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel who got too close to the BRP Sierra Madre.

The alleged gun-pointing happened May 19, when the Philippine Navy brought supplies to the troops in the WPS detachment via airdrop.

“If you saw in the video, the Chinese RHIBs were very close to the BRP Sierra Madre because the supplies were dropped really very close so that it would be very easy to retrieve the supplies and because of the risks that these supplies might sink so dapat pagbagsak nya, ma-recover kaagad natin (if they are dropped, it must be recovered immediately),” the AFP chief said.

With the CCG personnel getting too close to BRP Sierra Madre in an attempt to get to the airdrop supplies first, Filipino troops aboard saw this as a threat and danger to them, thus the self-defense stance.

Of the four drops, the second was seized by the Chinese.

“As you saw in the video when the second package resupply package was dropped, they attempted or they went to the area to recover it despite the fact that our boats were already there,” Brawner said.

He said that the Chinese immediately threw the package back into the water after seeing that it contained just food.

“Siguro naghahanap sila ng (they were probably looking for) construction materials but it was just a small package enough to carry food items and enough for it to float in the water,” Brawner said.

Aside from snatching supplies for Filipino troops, the Chinese also interfered with the medical evacuation to Palawan of a sick military officer aboard the BRP Sierra Madre.

“Unfortunately during the first attempt of bringing our soldier out of the Second Thomas Shoal or Ayungin Shoal, they were blocked by the Chinese so we were not able to complete the medical evacuation,” Brawner said.

The evacuation was completed with the help of the Philippine Coast Guard the following day.

Unlawful

Brawner said the Chinese have no authority or right to confiscate the supply packages.

“We have reported this already to our Department of National Defense. We have provided the information to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” he added. “It’s up to DFA now whether they are going to file a protest.”

Meanwhile, Navy spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said the two Chinese RHIBs were only five to 10 meters away from the BRP Sierra Madre at the time.

Aside from the Chinese RHIBs, there were also two Filipino boats tasked to recover the airdrop supplies.

Brawner said all actions of the AFP “will be within the bounds of international law.”

Trinidad, meanwhile, said China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy announced Sunday that it would hold a drill near Sabina Shoal (Escoda Shoal), which is 123.6 nautical miles off Palawan.

“After the announcement they started exercising from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. This included the launching of the hovercrafts, of their aircraft and some maneuvers at sea. This was also repeated yesterday, June 3,” Trinidad said.

He said China’s acts are illegal.

“First and foremost they have no right to be within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), the conduct of an exercise is unauthorized under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Convention) it’s not allowed,” Trinidad said. (PNA)