PH urged to consider joint patrols as China demands removal of grounded ship in Ayungin

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 26) — A former top diplomat urged the Duterte administration to look into holding joint patrols with the United States after China demanded the removal of grounded BRP Sierra Madre in the West Philippine Sea.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government focused mainly on bilateral diplomacy with China that it neglected other options to deal with the Asian megapower's incursions in the Philippine territory.

"The matter of Ayungin shoal as a proper subject of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States should perhaps be considered, including the necessity of joint patrol," he said in a statement.

The decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and United States guarantees that they will both provide military aid to each other in case their metropolitan areas or their territories in the Pacific are attacked by a foreign force.

China on Wednesday demanded that the Philippines remove BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era warship which has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal since 1999, saying it should “honor its commitment.”

Philippine officials denied the existence of such agreement. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines is free to do anything it wishes in Ayungin, adding that China is actually the one trespassing since the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) already ruled in favor of the Philippines.

Malacañang on Friday supported Lorenzana's statement.

"We will fully exercise our sovereign rights over our territory," acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.

Earlier this month, three Chinese maritime militia blocked and fired water cannon at Philippine vessels on its way to deliver supplies to troops on board BRP Sierra Madre. Several nations, including the United States, expressed support for the Philippines and condemned China's actions.

CNN Philippines correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.