PH activities in Ayungin not subject to other country’s approval – DFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — No foreign country can dictate on how Manila exercises its rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This was declared by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday, following a Chinese official’s claims of a special agreement regarding supplies which Manila may deliver to Ayungin Shoal.

DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said the Philippines’ rotation and resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin are “legitimate and routine activities” in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“The Philippine’s exercise of its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction within our maritime zones is not subject to any other country’s approval," Daza wrote in a statement. "This is the norm."

In a public briefing on the same day, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also said Manila does not need Beijing’s authorization — an assertion echoed by Col., Medel Aguilar, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Una sa lahat ‘no [First of all], we don't need permission from the People's Republic of China,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea (WPS), stressed.

“Ang Ayungin Shoal ay napapaloob sa ating [Ayungin Shoal is within our] exclusive economic zone," he added. "We have the sovereign rights over these waters.”

The statements came a day after Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian claimed “there has never been a problem” with the Philippines delivering humanitarian supplies to its troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, saying “there is a special arrangement for such.”

The envoy said the problem was the transportation of large-scale building materials — something Beijing accused Manila of doing during an Aug. 5 resupply mission, as it defended its use of water cannons on Philippine boats.

But it isn’t true that China has stopped interfering with Philippine vessels, Tarriela countered.

“Ang ating supply boats, ang Philippine Coast Guard vessels ay tahasan pa ring hinarang ng mga China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel at ng kanilang Chinese maritime militia vessels. It's not true pinayagan nila ito,” the PCG official said.

[Translation: Our supply boats, our Philippine Coast Guard vessels are still being blocked by China Coast Guard vessels and their maritime militia vessels. It’s not true there was no resistance.]

After the water cannon incident earlier this month, the Philippines conducted a new resupply mission to Ayungin on Tuesday, which the National Task Force for the WPS said was successful despite attempts by Chinese vessels to again "block, harass, and interfere.”

Retired Navy Rear Admiral Rommel Ong, who served during the previous Duterte administration, called the supposed special arrangement "very ridiculous."

"My sense is they were talking to their domestic audience. Nakalusot tayo eh [We got through], they had to justify it," Ong told CNN Philippines' Politics As Usual.

Meanwhile, Former Coast Guard chief Leo Laroya warned that China's "dangerous maneuvers" may cause accidents given the difficulties of sailing vessels in high seas.

"[T]hey either pass at the bow area of the vessel or trying to get near of the vessel, and that's very dangerous," Laroya also told Politics As Usual.

Despite the 2016 landmark arbitral ruling that upheld the Philippines' sovereign rights within its EEZ, China continues to claim Ayungin Shoal as its own, referring to it as Ren'ai Reef.