n the1948 John Houston
movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, three destitute Americans working
as gold prospectors mining the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico are
confronted by bandits posing as mounted police (“Federales”). When they are
asked to produce their badges, the chief bandit's response is classic:
“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
Whenever China is asked to prove its ownership of all of the South China
Sea, all 1.7 million square miles of it, including all of the islands and
outcrops within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the
Philippines, its response is virtually similar: “Proof? We don’t need no
That may be a better response than the “stinking proof” China actually
presented to the United Nations on May 7, 2009 - a map of the South China
Sea drawn by the Kuomintang government on December 1, 1947. Originally an
11-line map, it was later reduced to 9 lines by the Chinese Communists in
1949 and then recently increased to 10 in 2013.
China’s multi-line map does not contain any specific geographic coordinates
and does not explain how it would be connected if it was a continuous line.
Prof. Yin Wenqiang, a senior Chinese government maritime law expert,
candidly admitted in a US Embassy cable in 2008 that he was unaware of the
historical basis for China’s claim.
This preposterous claim would be akin to a four year old child with a box of
crayons using them to draw several lines on a piece of paper and the
imperious parents requiring everyone to indulge the fantasies of their
spoiled child and accept the lines on a map as a legitimate claim of
Unfortunately for the Philippines, this spoiled child's lines on a map formed
the basis for China's illegal 1995 occupation of Mischief Reef (Panganiban
Reef) – located just 130 miles from Palawan. In the years since then, China
has constructed a 4-story military garrison with a helipad on the
outcropping shoal of Mischief Reef.
China has also planted buoys in Sabina Shoal, which is just 70 miles from
Palawan. It is China’s “well-rehearsed routine” when laying claim to a shoal
to first put down buoys, then place concrete markers, then build temporary
wooden or bamboo shelters, and if unchallenged, to then erect permanent
Recognizing that China was seeking to occupy the Ayungin Shoal, which is
only 13 nautical miles from Mischief Reef and just 108 nautical miles from
Palawan, the Philippine Navy deployed its mothballed ship, the BRP Sierra
Madre (originally built as a tank-loading US warship in 1944), to the
Ayungin Shoal and then deliberately ran it aground to serve as a marine
outpost to guard the Ayungin Shoal which is uninhabitable. Ayungin's real
value is its strategic proximity to the oil-rich Recto Bank.
There was little action in the Ayungin Shoal from 1999 until May of 2013
when three Chinese ships appeared on the shoal’s horizon to signal the
beginning of China’s naval blockade of the Ayungin Shoal. Philippine Defense
Secretary Voltaire Gazmin assured the Filipino people at the time that the
Philippine Navy will defend Ayungin “to the last soldier standing”.
China’s Major General Zhang Zhaozhong previously explained China’s “cabbage
strategy" to occupy Ayungin Shoal, the same strategy successfully employed
in securing Mischief Reef and the Scarborough Shoal.
“In the area around the island, fishing administration ships and marine
surveillance ships are conducting normal patrols while in the outer ring
there are navy warships. The island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a
cabbage. As a result, a cabbage strategy has taken shape. If the Philippines
wants to go in, in the outermost area, it has first to ask whether our navy
will allow it. Then it has to ask whether our fishery administration ships
and marine surveillance ships will allow it.”
“For those small islands, only a few troopers are able to station on each of
them, but there is no food or even drinking water there. If we carry out the
“cabbage” strategy, you will not be able to send food and drinking water
onto the islands,” Zhang said. The Filipino troops stationed there will be
forced to leave and China can then occupy the territory without firing a
shot, Zhang predicted.
With only a few Philippine marines stationed on board the Sierra Madre,
China thought it was only a matter of time before Ayungin would be fully
occupied by China.
The cabbage strategy was working in Ayungin until November of 2013 when
Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda struck the area forcing the Chinese vessels to
return to China. This silver lining of Yolanda allowed the Philippine Navy
to replenish the troops and food supplies on board the Sierra Madre.
But the Chinese ships returned back to Ayungin Shoal in early 2014 and when
two Philippine vessels arrived in the Shoal with fresh marines to replace
those who were stationed there in November of 2013, the Chinese ships barred
them from reaching the Sierra Madre on March 9.
Undeterred, on March 28, the Philippine Navy deployed another civilian
vessel (AM 700) on a 30 hour voyage from Palawan to the Sierra Madre filled
with marine replacements, 10 tons of food and water supplies and a dozen
representatives of the foreign and local media.
As their vessel neared the Sierra Madre, two Chinese coast guard ships
appeared in front of them to block them. A Chinese coast guard ship marked
“1141″ crossed the bow of the smaller Philippine vessel to stop it from
proceeding forward. Another tailed the Filipino boat.
The Chinese radioed the Filipinos, telling them to stop. “You will take full
responsibility for the consequences of your action,” the voice said in
“This is the Republic of the Philippines,” Philippine navy Lt. Ferdinand
Gato, who was in charge of the supply mission, replied. “We are here to
provision the troops.”
Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Nikko Dizon described the event in a
hurried phone call to the Inquirer news desk.
coast guards are now harassing us. They are blowing their horns, ordering us
out of the area, saying we are conducting an illegal operation,’’ Dizon
But the Philippine boat successfully maneuvered through a shallow approach
to the shoal where the larger Chinese ships could not follow and
successfully docked alongside the Sierra Madre.
The fresh crew of Philippine marines and the members of the media boarded
the Sierra Madre and watched as the marines who had been stationed for four
months on the ship dressed in their military fatigues, with their scraggly
beards, proudly raised the Philippine flag in a "relieving the watch"
ceremony. The photo of this ceremony went viral and may yet be the iconic
photo of the “Battle of Ayungin”.
At virtually the same time that the flag was being raised on the Sierra
Madre, the Philippine government was submitting its memorandum to the
Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
at The Hague in the Netherlands challenging China’s territorial claims over
the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario described the
Memorial, consisting of 10 volumes, including more than 40 maps, in nearly
4,000 pages, as being “about defending what is legitimately ours… about
securing our children’s future…about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for
all nations… about helping to preserve regional peace, security and
stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution
but a just and durable solution grounded on International Law.”
For now, the Philippine flag still flies over the Sierra Madre with its
contingent of fresh Philippine marines to protect the Ayungin Shoal from a
hegemonist China fully determined to seize it.
Will China wait until the term of office of Pres. Aquino ends in June 2016
and a new president more supportive of China’s claims is elected? China does
not actually need to pour billions of pesos into the coffers of its
preferred presidential candidate; it can simply ask the Chinese Filipino
Taipans – with enormous investments in China - to financially back a more
pro-China candidate, someone more like former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Or will China be unwilling to wait that long and just increase the number of
its ships surrounding the Ayungin Shoal to prevent the next Philippine
resupply ship from slipping through?
In the meantime, a group of US Pinoys in San Francisco is asking the
Philippine Navy to set up a special fund to raise the money needed to paint
the dilapidated and crumbling Sierra Madre ship, perhaps with bright
Philippine flag colors of blue, white and red.
“That way, every time the Chinese invaders see our Sierra Madre, they will
know without doubt who owns the Ayungin Shoal,” said Esther Aure Asercion,
one of the project's organizers.
(Send comments to
Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429
Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).
Philnews.com reserves the right to select and edit comments for publication.
Our Readers (Topic: We Treasure Our Sierra Madre)
Name: JRH City/State/Country: Montreal, Canada IP
It's clear that the Chinese won't sue for peace, dialogue, or compromise at any time. Its one-track ambition of claiming the whole area of water including territories it doesn't own. They now resort to bully-tactics, outright terrorism, & provocative tactics. The Phil Navy supply ships was closed to being rammed by the Chinese patrol boats. Lucky for us that we reached shallow waters near Sierra Madre. This encounters will be repeated many times over. Our role now is to prevent a small ember into a big fire. Diplomacy, cool heads, & plenty of patience are only allies.
Name: Enteng D'Dragon
City/State/Country: Lup ng mga Mahangin IP Address: 184.108.40.206
It is quite something to read "pride" amongst the posters here citing the rusting hulk Sierra Madre as a symbol of defiance against the "bully"
china. I see the contrast with the spiffy white painted Chinese navy ships (see pics in the editorial) patrolling the area of conflict. It illustrate of how pathetically desperate (if not the indifference)
of the Philippine is when it comes to preserving international prestige.
Name: Isabelle City/State/Country: Toronto IP Address: 220.127.116.11
Sierra Madre is the rallying "Alamo" of Philippines determination to fight for its territory? Too bad it is a rusting hulk that can't even move by itself anymore-- it really symbolizes the state of affair of the - Philippines! A derelict rusting hulk given as a pittance of aid from the great rich uncle benefactor of the little brown brothers! Remember the Alamo, Remember the Sierra Madre, Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
Name: As I See It
City/State/Country: CebuCity/SanDiego,CA IP Address: 18.104.22.168
political hierarchy still believes in Mao's doctrine 'political power emanates
from the barrel of the gun.' Not since WW2 has the world seen 1/2 China
increased its defense budget to a staggering level emphasizing the need to
acquire high-tech weaponry, exerting any possible effort to attain its ambition
to be AT PAR with US military strength & with its dictum 'fight war, win war'
and in support of its quest to control as much land areas as possible as in seas, gaining leverage economically and militarily.
Philippine NewsLink reserves the right to select and edit
comments for publication.
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