November 25 ------ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday maintained that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Ayungin Shoal amid Beijing's call to Manila to remove its grounded vessel there. In a message to reporters, Lorenzana said Ayungin Shoal, located 174 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
"Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified," Lorenzana said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. "China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of." Aside from UNCLOS, Lorenzana also noted that the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in its 2016 ruling on a case filed by the Philippines, has said that China's territorial claim over the West China Sea has neither historic nor legal basis. "Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing," the Defense chief said.
Lorenzana was reacting to the statement made by China's foreign ministry, through its spokesman Zhao Lijian, asking the Philippines to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal. BRP Sierra Madre is an old Navy ship that has been serving as the Philippine outpost in the area since 1999 when it ran aground there. "Meron tayong dalawang dokumento na nagpapatunay na meron tayong sovereign rights sa ating EEZ habang sila ay wala at yung claim nila walang basehan," Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana also said he is not aware of a prior commitment made by Philippine authorities with China regarding BRP Sierra Madre. "I'll have to ask the people during that time," he said. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, has yet to formally respond to Zhao's statement. "We will endeavor to ask if a reaction/statement is forthcoming to this baitworthy wolf warrior release," said Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez.
Meñez said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier stated that "countries are free to say whatever they want." "I will add that whether the 'court of global public opinion' believes your narrative is another story altogether," Meñez said. China'S demand for the removal of BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal came a day after Filipino boats reached the grounded ship to complete their 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.