Philippines denies its troops pointed guns at Chinese coast guard personnel

Manila accuses China of trying to interfere with an air-drop of supplies intended for Filipino marines stationed at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal.
Jason Gutierrez
Philippines denies its troops pointed guns at Chinese coast guard personnel The BRP Sierra Madre is seen anchored at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, Nov. 10, 2023.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

The Philippines on Tuesday rejected Beijing’s allegations that Filipino troops had pointed guns at Chinese coast guard personnel after they “dangerously approached” a military outpost in the disputed South China Sea. 

China’s state-run media on Sunday said that Filipino marines stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era naval ship run aground on Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, had aimed their weapons at rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) deployed by a China Coast Guard ship on May 19. 

Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. disputed the account, saying the troops were armed but followed strict rules of engagement and had acted “with the highest level of professionalism, restraint and discipline.”

“We are denying that any of our soldiers pointed their guns deliberately …” Brawner said at a press briefing Tuesday. “But we will not deny the fact that they were armed because the BRP Sierra Madre is a commissioned navy ship and therefore it is authorized to have weapons.

Brawner was echoing comments he had made in an interview with GMA news program “24 Oras” a day earlier.

“We have that right because of the concept of self-defense. We have the right to defend ourselves from any armed attack or external attack,” he said.

Manila deliberately ran the rusty ship aground in 1999 to serve as its military outpost at the shoal. Since then, it has had to dispatch ships and boats regularly to deliver fresh supplies to the military personnel onboard the BRP Sierra Madre.

Brawner accused the China Coast Guard of deploying RHIBs to intercept supplies that were being air-dropped to the Philippine troops.

The Chinese RHIBs, Brawner said, came “very, very close” to the BRP Sierra Madre and from the point of view of troops on board “posed a danger or a threat.”

The Chinese coast guard seized one of the four bags – which were dropped and contained food and some medicine – and later scattered the supplies at sea, Brawner said. 

“Such behavior is unacceptable and undermines efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” Brawner said. 

The incident adds to rising tensions in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the mineral-rich waterway while dismissing competing claims from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam and Taiwan.

In 2016, an international arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines, throwing out China’s sweeping historical claims. Beijing has never accepted the decision.

China has occupied Scarborough Shoal, which lies within Manila’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, for more than a decade.

Last week, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., during a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore, hit out at China’s “assertive actions that aim to propagate excessive, baseless claims through force, intimidation and deception.”

The China Embassy in Manila did not reply to requests for comment on Brawner’s statement, but sought to debunk Marcos’ speech in Singapore. 

“China’s territorial sovereignty over maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea are based on solid historical and legal grounds,” the Chinese Embassy said on Monday, quoting a foreign ministry spokesperson.


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