China is just waiting for the Philippine Navy boat BRP Sierra Madre to break apart before it takes over Ayungin Shoal, a forward operating post of the Armed Forces of Philippines to guard the West Philippine Sea, retired general Edilberto Adan said. 

Adan is now board trustee of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR). 

During a roundtable interview, Adan said China will continue to block efforts by the Philippines to maintain its military outpost in the Ayungin Shoal area. He cited the other occupied territories — the Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs. 

All reefs are claimed by the Philippines. Mischief Reef is within the country’s exclusive economic zone, Adan said.

“First we have to understand what China is trying to do in the South China Sea and in particular the West Philippine Sea,” Adan said when asked of the implications of the incident in Ayungin Shoal where Chinese Coast Guard harassed Philippines boats on their way to re-supply soldiers stationed in the shoal.

Adan said over the years, China has deployed militia boats in the area “which are practically under the control of the People’s Liberation Army.”

“And so, what is Ayungin Shoal for them? You know the Ayungin Shoal is a forward operating post. It’s an outpost of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, of the Philippine government. It stakes our claim in that part of the West Philippine Sea. It is within our EEZ, within our continental shelf,” he said. “And the Chinese know that the BRP Sierra Madre is a World War 2 ship. It’s been there since 1998 and it’s about to crumble down. It’s about to break apart.”

“I believe they are just waiting for the opportune time to take over that particular feature because of natural phenomenon or (when) the ship breaks apart, or through their actions to prevent the maintenance, prevent the Philippine government from manning that outpost,” he said.

“And that is what they did recently when they showed what they can do by preventing two Philippine supply vessels. I believe it will happen again because China wants to assert, wants to control, wants to take over, to be exact, the Ayungin Shoal,” Adan added.

“They were just waiting for the opportune time, not just maritime, the military, or tactical opportunity. But the political opportunity as well,” he pointed out.

Former Interior secretary Rafael Alunan, retired colonel Alejandro Flores, lawyer Rafael Morales, PCFR chairman, president, and corporate secretary, also shared their views on the security and economic issues linked to the conflicting claims in the SCS.

The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine naval vessel, is home to a small contingent of military personnel.

Adan pointed out that when Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. called the Ayungin incident an intrusion, the Chinese Ambassador to Manila “responded by saying, ‘You are encroaching, you are the one who trespassed in our archipelago.'”

“It shows that they were framing it from a legal perspective. And scholars have said since the issue is territorial by characterizing the presence as territorial as labeled by Sec. Locsin then it cannot be brought to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) because it is territorial,” he said.

“But what China is doing is outside of that. It is on the ground using coercive pressure to assert its claim. And therefore, the response, I believe, should be correspondingly similar,” the PCFR officer said.

“We have done our protests, but nothing is happening. But they will continue to physically pressure, coerce, and stop our control or maintenance of that outpost,” Adan stressed.