MANILA, Nov 26 (Mabuhay) — China has no right to demand the removal of grounded Philippine vessel BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, several senators said on Thursday.

In a statement, Senator Grace Poe said the 2016 arbitral ruling already declared that Ayungin Shoal belongs to the Philippines as it is within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

“China has no right to dictate what we can do within our waters. Its recent statement telling us to remove BRP Sierra Madre from the shoal is another display of utter arrogance and aggression that we must not take sitting down,” Poe said.

The lawmaker also urged the government to “step up” its efforts in rallying neighboring countries to form a united front against China in the South China Sea, apart from the several diplomatic protests sent by the Philippines.

“Time and again, several nations have  stood by us and shared our goal of ensuring peace, stability and harmony. Mutual respect must always be the cornerstone of our relationship with any nation,” Poe said.

Senator Joel Villanueva likewise emphasized the sovereign rights of the Philippines over Ayungin Shoal.

“Trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order,” he said. “Our ship has been there since 1999. To argue otherwise is to suffer from historical amnesia and geographical ignorance.”

In a virtual press conference, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson also agreed that the BRP Sierra Madre should not be pulled out from the Ayungin Shoal.

“Ewan ko kung ano ang plano nila diyan. Kung sinasabi nilang kanila ‘yon, umusog tayo, hindi tayo uusog,” Sotto said.

(I don’t know what their plans are but if they are telling us that Ayungin Shoal is theirs and that we should move, we will not follow them.)

For his part, Lacson refuted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian’s statement that there was an agreement between China and Philippines regarding the eventual removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

“I don’t think there was an agreement and I couldn’t imagine the Philippine government, much less the Foreign Affairs department, na papasok sa kasunduan na tatanggalin natin ‘yung Sierra Madre [to enter an agreement to remove Sierra Madre from the area],” he said.

If elected president, Lacson said he would not allow the removal of BRP Sierra Madre as this would give China an “unhampered control” over the territory.

He said he is even planning to add more troops at Ayungin Shoal and place another “functioning” vessel aside from BRP Sierra Madre.

For now, Lacson said he introduced an amendment in the 2022 national budget to provide P48.7 million for the outposts in Kalayaan Group of Islands and P20 million for the marine research that is currently being conducted by the University of the Philippines.

China has demanded that the Philippines remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal after Filipino boats reached the grounded Navy ship to complete a resupply mission.

The Chinese coast guard last week blocked and fired water cannons at the Filipino mission, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to call out China at the ASEAN-China special summit.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday maintained that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Ayungin Shoal.

He said the Philippines “can do whatever we want there and it is they (China) who are actually trespassing.” (MNS)

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