Lacson: Reinforce, refurbish BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 25, 2021) — Presidential aspirant Senator Ping Lacson said on Thursday that the country should strengthen its presence in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Lacson, who chairs the Senate Defense Committee, says BRP Sierra Madre should be refurbished and reinforced. This is in response to China's statement that the Philippines should honor its supposed commitment to remove the grounded ship, which also serves as a military outpost in the area.

"Hindi natin kaya na i-convert yung shoal para mag-reclaim. Katakot-takot na pera ang kailangan doon. Dapat huwag natin bayaang iusog," the Partido Reporma standard bearer said during an online press conference.

[Translation: We cannot reclaim the shoal. We will need a lot of money for that. We should not allow the removal of our vessel. ]

"'Yun din ang gusto ng China, palayasin ang Sierra Madre doon para unhampered na ang kanilang pagko-control sa Ayungin Shoal. So dapat kung puwede nga dagdagan natin ang tropa," he further explained.

[Translation: China also wants that so they may have a full control of Ayungin Shoal. We should add more troops.]

The lawmaker also expressed doubts over the Philippines, through the Foreign Affairs Department, making such a commitment knowing that Ayungin Shoal is within the territory of the Philippines.

READ: PH denies ‘commitment’ to remove grounded ship from Ayungin Shoal as claimed by China 

Based on the briefing given by the military's Western Command after his visit to Pag-asa Island on Saturday, Lacson said the platform of the grounded vessel has already corroded and needs to be replaced.

Chinese Coast Guard vessels earlier used water cannon to drive away local boats that were supposed to bring supplies including some metal plates to be used to fix the platform of BRP Sierra Madre. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the following resupply attempt was successful but was still harassed by Chinese authorities.

"I hope as we speak, ini-install na nila ang metal plates at least sa platform. So dapat talaga kung kakayanin, maglagay pa tayo ng isa pang barko doon na nagpa-function on top of the existing," Lacson said.

[Translation: I hope as we speak metal plates are being installed at least in the platform. If possible, we should deploy a functional ship there.]

Additional budget for Pag-asa Island

As the Senate reached the period of amendments for the 2022 budget, Lacson said he will ask his colleagues for additional ₱48.7 million for the improvement of military facilities and ₱20 million for the marine research center both on Pag-asa Island, the stronghold of the country in the disputed Spratlys.

"Ito yung sinasabi natin na pag meron tayong nakitang problema o kakulangan, sinusundan agad natin ng action, hindi yung pangako lang na gagawin natin ito," he said.

[Translation: This is what we meant when we say that we take actions, not empty promises, when we see problems and inadequacies.]

Lacson said he and his running mate Senate President Tito Sotto will also file a resolution to condemn China's recent aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

The senator insists having a balance of power among countries will best serve the interest of the Philippines.

"Ang kailangan doon, ma-prevent natin ‘yung war, pero kailangan merong balanse. Hindi ‘yung isa lang ‘yung nambu-bully at ‘yung maliit na bansa, laging nabubully," said Lacson.

[Translation: War should be prevented, hence the need for balance. This is to prevent big nations from bullying smaller ones. ]

"So, ‘yon, nandoon tayo ngayon at ‘yun ang aming direction na ipu-pursue. Kailangan palakasin natin ‘yung ating alliances through bilateral and multilateral agreements," he added.

[Translation: That is where we are now and that is the direction we are pursuing. We should reinforce alliances through bilateral and multilateral agreements.]