DAVAO CITY April 10 (PIA)- The Armed Forces is eyeing to make permanent the grounded navy ship BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
“That’s one of the options we are considering.” Says Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said when asked of the plans to make the grounded World War II vintage Landing Ship Tank (LST) a permanent structure to guard the disputed shoal.
Gen. Año was the Davao International Airport today (April 10) during the departure of President Rodrigo Duterte in a week-long visit to the Middle East.
The President had ordered the Armed Forces to fortify the islands located in South China Sea during a visit to a Palawan military base last April 6.
Año said that the Philippines occupies 9 islands and shoals in Spratlys. There are about 96 shoals and islands in the Spratlys and about 24 are occupied by claimant countries, China has occupied seven.
“We will reinforce, we will put additional troops, we will put structures. Mga ibang reefs na sinasabi ng Presidente (the other reefs mentioned by the President) it would be taken in consideration with due respect to the ASEAN Code of Conduct.
As for BRP Sierra Madre, the chief-of-staff ruled out repairing and re-floating the vessel as it is beyond economical repair. However constant efforts are being made to improve the living conditions of the marines and sailors living there.
The ship was grounded in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to guard the shoal after China occupied Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) in 1995. Since then the ship has been garrisoned by Philippine Marines.
President Rodrigo Duterte in jest told members of the media during an interview in Palawan that he would replace the rusty vessel with a cruise ship. (PIA/RG Alama)