Dela Rosa to China: Who are you to decide what we can bring to Ayungin?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — Sen. Bato dela Rosa condemned the recent statement made by Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, who said there is a “special arrangement” between Manila and Beijing on the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Filipino troops stationed at Ayungin Shoal.

Sino sila para maga-approve kung ano dadalhin don para sa ating mga sundalo doon sa outpost? Bakit nila tayo pipigilan kung anong gusto nating dalhin?” Dela Rosa told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday.

[Translation: Who are they to approve what can be brought there for our troops in the outpost? Why should they prevent us from bringing what we want to bring?]

Following the successful resupply mission of the Philippines to Ayungin Shoal on Tuesday, Huang claimed that “[t]here has never been a problem with the delivery of humanitarian supplies because there is a special arrangement for such.” He noted that the problem was on the transportation of large-scale building materials.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela denied Huang’s statement, noting that the China Coast Guard still blocked Philippine vessels during the recent resupply mission.

Dela Rosa said this proves that what Beijing wants is to advance its own interests and that it wants the World War II-era ship BRP Sierra Madre to be further destroyed so it can take over the contested waters.

The Philippine Navy ship was deliberately grounded on Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as the country’s military outpost in the area.

Ayungin is located 104 nautical miles west of Palawan and is well within the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Philippines and China have conflicting claims over the part of the South China Sea that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, where Ayungin is located. However, a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling invalidated the latter’s expansive claims, and ruled largely in favor of Manila in areas of its EEZ and continental shelf that are being claimed by Beijing.

Since the shoal is part of the Philippines’ EEZ, Tarriela stressed that Manila does not need to ask for permission or explain to Beijing what materials it is transporting to Ayungin.

Dela Rosa also said he supports the call to build a structure on the shoal to provide better accommodation for Philippine troops there, as well as shelter for Filipino and Chinese fishermen during bad weather. The question now is if it can really be implemented given China’s objection to bringing of construction materials, he noted.

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, Sen. Francis Escudero said he will push for the allocation of ₱100 million under the 2024 budget for the building of a structure on Ayungin Shoal. Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel supported this, noting this should be non-military.