Senator: Did presence of US aircraft contribute to success of Ayungin resupply mission?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — Senators raised concerns about the deployment of a US Navy aircraft over the Ayungin Shoal during the recent resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, wondering if its presence contributed to the operation's success.

On Sept. 8, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) led another resupply mission in the Ayungin Shoal, which China tried and failed to block. A Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft monitored the operation.

READ: PH concludes new resupply mission to Ayungin after continued 'harassment' by China

PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tarriela told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday that the agency did not coordinate with the United States for this.

However, Defense Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga told senators during a joint committee inquiry on Tuesday that the AFP coordinated with the US.

To Senator Robin Padilla, the move may have provoked China to escalate tensions. He also repeatedly asked if the resupply mission was successful because of the US presence.

Madriaga, however, said it was through the bravery of the PCG and the Navy that the resupply was completed.

"Ang presensya po ng Amerikano dun is tulong lang sa maritime domain awareness and parang may 'eye in the sky' na nanonood…," Madriaga clarified. "Kaya po ng PCG at ng Navy 'yan."

[Translation: The US' presence was only to help in maritime domain awareness and it's like there was an 'eye in the sky' watching…The PCG and the Navy were capable of doing the mission.]

While officials said the Philippines could do the mission on its own, Tarriela admitted that it boosted PCG morale and confidence knowing that the US was watching and documenting the events.

Senate President Miguel Zubiri, however, welcomed assistance from allies in ensuring security over the contested waters.

"Let us use our friends and alliances to help strengthen our claim dito sa exclusive economic zone (EEZ) natin [in our EEZ]...," Zubiri said. "Kailangan natin ang tulong ng ating mga ka-alyado [we need help from our allies] whether we like it or not."

Meanwhile, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal also said that the Chinese Coast Guard's actions towards Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea could be considered military activity, as the former falls under the People's Liberation Army control.

Batongbacal also said that the escalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea since 2021 was due to Beijing's activities in Manila's exclusive economic zone, particularly through its use of a military-grade laser and dangerous maneuvers against Filipino coast guard vessels.

READ: Chinese vessel blocks, aims laser at Philippine Coast Guard near Ayungin Shoal

With reports from CNN Philippines' correspondent Eimor Santos.