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Philippines rejects South China Sea gun-pointing allegations

Philippines rejects South China Sea gun-pointing allegations
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Philippines rejects South China Sea gun-pointing allegations: ‘we have the right to defend ourselves’

Philippine troops stationed on a warship grounded on a disputed South China Sea shoal held on to their weapons after Chinese coastguard boats came very close to the ship but they did not point their guns at them, military officials said on Tuesday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner disputed an account by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV of what transpired during a routine resupply mission for Filipino troops on May 19.

CCTV had reported at least two Filipino personnel pointed guns in the direction of a Chinese coastguard vessel during the confrontation at BRP Sierra Madre, which Manila grounded on Second Thomas Shoal and turned into a garrison in 1999.

“It was just in preparation for self-defence in case something happens because they were very close,” Brawner told a press conference, describing the actions of the China Coast Guard as “provocative”.

“We have the right to defend ourselves,” he said, adding the Philippines will continue to assert its sovereignty in the area.

Philippine Marine Corps servicemen stationed aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea gesture to reporters in 2014. Photo: Reuters

Military officials said Chinese rigid-hull inflatable boats came within five to 10 metres of the BRP Sierra Madre and seized some of the supplies that were air dropped for troops, actions they said were “illegal” and “unacceptable”.

“This was a cause of alarm. So our soldiers as a precautionary measure, held on to their firearms. It is part of the rules of engagement,” Brawner said.

“We are denying that any of our soldiers pointed deliberately their guns at any of the Chinese … But we will not deny the fact that they were armed.”

Brawner said the BRP Sierra Madre is a commissioned vessel of the Philippine navy so it is authorised to have weapons.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which includes the Second Thomas Shoal. It has deployed hundreds of vessels to patrol the waterway, including what Manila refers to as “Chinese maritime militia,” which it said were also present on May 19.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

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