THE successful resupplying run by two civilian boats to deliver fresh supplies to a small group of Filipino soldiers bravely manning a marine outpost within the dilapidated and deliberately grounded BRP Sierra Madre ship beside the Ayungin Shoal, one of the contested islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), is nothing for Malacanang to crow or gloat about.
By using a rundown, rusted and crumbling World War II ship as a military outpost in the Ayungin Shoal (2nd Thomas Shoal) to assert its sovereignty in its dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, the country has clearly admitted and already accepted that it has no capability whatsoever to defend and protect what it claims as its territory among those islands in the West Philippine Sea.
If at all the military outpost at the Ayungin shoal represents what can only be termed as a symbolic gesture of defiance by the country against the military advances made by China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as it seeks to further exploit its dominion both economically and militarily along this part of the globe. Ditto with the successful resupply of the marine contingent at the Sierra Madre.
In fact the water cannon incident the week before, where Chinese military vessels patrolling near the Ayungin shoal successfully shooed away and prevented Philippine boats from resupplying the military outpost at the Sierra Madre reveal that for all intents and purposes, the Ayungin Shoal (2nd Thomas Shoal) and its surrounding waters is already effectively under the control of China.
In a report titled “China Brief” with the subtitle, “Second Thomas shoal likely the next flashpoint in the South China Sea”, posted in the website The Jamestown Foundation, Global Research and Analysis, we find that a Chinese Air Force Major General Zhang Zhaozhong, a nationalist who regularly appears in Chinese news, has proposed a so-called “cabbage” strategy in dealing and taking over the Ayungin Shoal in which, “the Chinese would surround the shoal in layers of Chinese ships, with fishing vessels in the inner layers, surrounded by civilian maritime vessels and navy ships in the outer layers. The goal of such a strategy would be to compel the Philippine marines deployed on the Shoal to abandon the grounded vessel for lack of sustenance.” Or if the said strategy will fail, the report also states that China can consider towing the BRP Sierra Madre away from the shoal.
These are very grim scenarios and in all likelihood are being seriously considered by the Chinese military authorities in their plan to eventually occupy, by force or otherwise, all visible and submerged portions of the Spratly islands. It is not a question of if they will take over the Spratly islands but when they actually plan to do so. And therefore it becomes only a matter of time when China will practically be entering through our doors and not simply be at our doorsteps.
Of course, if it’s any consolation, the national government is aggressively trying its best to fast track the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). But it can only do so much given its limited spending and buying power as well as prevailing conditions such as the COVID-19 pandemic which has greatly affected the country’s economy and diverted government priorities to respond to the situation.
If there is any silver lining in all of these, it is the fact that China for most of its actions in the West Philippine Sea has been telegraphing its punches and so if the country is to prepare for any eventuality, such as the progression of the territorial dispute into outright hostile armed skirmishes at sea, it would be best to have at your side an ally having the same or greater military might than China to act as a deterrent or a counterforce in case the situation turns for the worse.