PH denies 'commitment' to remove grounded ship from Ayungin Shoal as claimed by China

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 25)— China wants the Philippines to remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, saying it should "honor its commitment." But a top Philippine official says there is no such agreement.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has claimed the area is part of Chinese territory, despite the Arbitral Tribunal's 2016 ruling favoring the Philippines.

"China demands that the Philippine side honor its commitment and remove its grounded vessel on Ren'ai Jiao (Ayungin Shoal)," the Chinese official said in a briefing on Wednesday. "This position remains unchanged."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday refuted China's claim. The top official, who has served in the Armed Forces for decades, said he is not aware that the Philippines made such commitment to China.

"As far as I know there is no such commitment," he said in a statement. "That ship has been there since 1999. If there was commitment it would have been removed long time ago."

The Philippine military deliberately ran aground the World War II-era warship Sierra Madre on Ayungin in 1999 to fortify the country's claim and provide a shelter to a small contingent of marines.

In 2014, China also claimed that the Philippines allegedly agreed to pull out of Ayungin. The Department of Foreign Affairs responded that the shoal is part of Philippine continental shelf over which the nation has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

Lorenzana also stressed that Ayungin lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as awarded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, so China has no say what happens outside its territory.

"We can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing," he said. "Meron tayong dalawang dokumento na nagpapatunay na meron tayong sovereign rights sa ating EEZ habang sila ay wala at 'yung claim nila walang basehan."

[Translation: We have two documents proving that we have sovereign rights in our EEZ. They don't have such and their claim has no basis.]

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. meanwhile echoed President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks during the latest ASEAN-China Summit — slamming the recent events in Ayungin Shoal.

Ayungin Shoal is located 104 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of Palawan and is well within the Philippines 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. It is part of the Kalayaan Island Group.

However, China has been claiming the area with the historic nine-dash line, which the Arbitral Tribunal has ruled as invalid.

Attacks in Ayungin

On Nov. 16, three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and fired water cannon on two Philippine boats transporting food supplies to Filipino soldiers onboard BRP Sierra Madre. No one was hurt in the incident but the delivery of supplies to the Filipino troops had to be aborted.

RELATED: US, Japan, Australia, EU stand by PH following Ayungin incident

It was only this week when Philippine supply boats resumed their mission. However, a Chinese Coast Guard ship was spotted within the area during the mission. Lorenzana said it is a "form of intimidation and harassment."

Zhao argued that the "delivery of food and other supplies is a provisional, special arrangement out of humanitarian considerations," so it is within the duty of the Chinese Coast Guard to monitor the entire activity.

RELATED: China on Ayungin Shoal incident: PH boats 'trespassed' into Chinese waters

Lorenzana said the resupply boats left BRP Sierra Madre on the same day they unloaded cargoes and personnel. He said the situation in area remains "calm and normal."

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan, Bamba Galang, and Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.