[OPINION] Flashpoint Ayungin


The latest harassment of Philippine troops by China in Ayungin is part of a pattern. In 2013, the Armed Forces had already reported that China eyed to occupy the shoal which lies within the country’s EEZ.

Gary Alejano, the Magdalo party-list member in the House of Representatives, has become our eyes and ears in the West Philippine Sea. He has brought us information on China’s aggressive actions otherwise hidden in the bureaucratic folds of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), deliberately kept away from us by the steadfast China-lover, Secretary Alan Cayetano.

It turns out that Alejano, a former Marine officer, has his network of sources – from the military and recently, the DFA – who are authoritative and impeccable. They speak to him, knowing that he has an abiding interest in asserting the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea and because the official channels are closed. Except for Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who can’t help his candor, no one else in the Duterte Cabinet is publicly taking the cudgels for the Philippines in its uphill diplomatic struggle with China.

These soldiers and diplomats with no names trust that Alejano, from his perch in Congress, will share vital information with the public. What is gratifying is that these sources want us to know that behind the bromance between Presidents Xi and Duterte, the syrupy declarations of love, is the hegemonic reality of China riding roughshod over the Philippines’ maritime zone and rattling its sabers in the South China Sea to show off its military power.

As Admiral Philip Davidson, newly designated head of the US Indo-Pacific Command (formerly Pacific Command), admitted in a testimony before the US Senate in April, “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Davidson premised this on China’s years of dredging to build its military bases beginning December 2013 and which peaked in 2015. “Today, these forward operating bases appear complete,” he concluded. “The only thing lacking are the deployed forces. Once occupied…any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants.”

Close calls

It was in this context that China harassed the Philippine Navy in a May 11 resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). In a statement picked up by the media, Alejano gave a detailed description of China’s show of brazen might. This was not denied by the DFA nor the Armed Forces:

“When the Philippine Navy ship launched a rubber boat to resupply BRP Sierra Madre, a chopper of PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] hovered in a close and dangerous distance. The PLAN chopper was so close that sea water splash entered the rubber boat.”

“Chinese forces were aboard Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) with number 3368 and PLAN ship with bow number 549. Before, it was only CCG that was challenging and harassing our troops. Now, the CCG was already accompanied by the PLAN.”

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines has lodged a complaint to the DFA regarding this recent case of harassment by Chinese forces…”

This is not the first time China swooped in on our Navy boats providing supplies and rotating troops in BRP Sierra Madre, the decrepit ship that has valiantly stood guard in Ayunging Shoal which is only 167 kilometers away from Palawan and lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). From Hainan, China’s southernmost province, Ayungin is almost a thousand kilometers away!