Presidential bets, senators push back against China's call to remove grounded ship from Ayungin Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 25) — Some presidential aspirants and lawmakers have again asserted the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea, saying China has no right to demand the removal of the grounded BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

For Vice President Leni Robredo, the issue is non-debatable, since a Hague tribunal had already ruled in 2016 that the Philippines enjoys sovereign rights over the area.

Ayungin Shoal is located 104 nautical miles from the archipelagic baseline of Palawan and is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Klaro na bahagi ito ng ating EEZ at mayroon tayong sovereign rights over dito," Robredo told reporters in an event in Cavite. "Dapat iyong enjoyment ng resources doon ay exclusive para sa mga Pilipino."

[Translation: The shoal is clearly part of our EEZ, over which we have sovereign rights. The enjoyment of these resources should be exclusively for Filipinos.]

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, another presidential hopeful, also cited the country’s arbitral victory. He vowed to take strong action against China’s aggression if he wins in next year's elections.

“It is ours historically, technically, and the world agrees with us. We own it under the Hague ruling,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson in a briefing said the country should strengthen its presence in the shoal, suggesting that the grounded vessel be refurbished. Earlier, he urged the government to take a more authoritative stand, saying “we are already being bullied because we don’t do too much.”

A number of senators have also issued statements slamming China.

Among them were Senators Joel Villanueva, Grace Poe and Francis Tolentino, who stressed that the Asian giant cannot dictate what the Philippines can do within its waters.

“Trespassers have no right to issue an eviction order,” Villanueva said, while Tolentino noted a sovereign state like the Philippines “should not get instructions from another government where to dock vessels within our territory.”

According to Poe, the government should step up efforts in rallying neighboring nations to form a united front against Beijing's illegal actions in the disputed waters.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan, meanwhile, underscored the importance of defending the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, saying it is vital in ensuring the country’s food security.

In 1999, the Philippine military deliberately ran aground the World War II-era warship on Ayungin Shoal to fortify the country's claim and provide a shelter to a small contingent of Marines. China said the Philippines had previously committed to pull out the grounded ship, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana refuted the claim.