China's demand to remove ship nixed

China's demand to remove ship nixed
This undated handout photo released by the Philippine Government on May 23, 2013 shows an aerial view of BRP Sierra Madre, a 100-metre (328 foot) amphibious vessel built for the US in 1944 and acquired by the Filipino navy in 1976, grounded at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines has rejected China's demand to pull out a grounded Philippine Navy ship from the disputed Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the South China Sea.

In a statement on Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reiterated the Philippines' ownership of Ayungin Shoal in the disputed Spratlys group, saying it is part of the country's continental shelf.

China earlier blocked two Philippine ships bringing supplies from reaching a small contingent of Filipino soldiers stationed in a rusty ship at the shoal, escalating the tensions in the area. The Philippines and the United States have protested Beijing's action as provocative.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said that the ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, was sent to the Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent government outpost in response to China's occupation in 1995 of the nearby Mischief Reef, that is also claimed by the Philippines.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, resource-rich waters where neighbouring nations also have claims.

"The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction," the DFA said.

It said the Philippines never made the "unequivocal commitment" to pull out of the shoal, as China claimed on Thursday.

"The BRP Sierra Madre, a commissioned Philippine Naval Vessel, was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine Government installation in response to China's illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. This was prior to the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002," said the DFA statement.

The DOC stipulates that parties must refrain from "inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features."

The declaration also secured the commitment of parties involved to "the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea," consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The DFA issued the comments in response to Beijing's assertions on Thursday that it was right to drive away Filipino ships from the shoal, known as Ren'ai Reef in China, as it accused the Philippines of carrying construction materials to "China's island."

The Armed Forces has continued to refrain from commenting on China's allegation that the civilian ships hired by the military was bringing construction materials to the shoal, saying the DFA was tasked to answer such questions.

The US Embassy in Manila and the US State Department separately issued statements on Wednesday calling the Chinese action of blocking the entry of the Philippine ships into the shoal "a provocative move that raises tensions."

With a report from Nikko Dizon

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