Philippines says troops held weapons but did not point at Chinese coast guard

June 4, 2024 - 1:50 PM
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. speaks to the media beside Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos during a press briefing at Western Command in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, August 10, 2023. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo)

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

READ: AFP says troops acted professionally in South China Sea

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner disputed an account by China’s state 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 their coast guards’ direction during the confrontation at BRP Sierra Madre, which Manila grounded on Second Thomas Shoal and turned into a garrison in 1999.

READ: China says Philippine personnel pointed guns at Chinese coast guard in disputed waters

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

Military officials said Chinese rigid hull inflatable boats came within five to 10 meters 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.

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

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

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.

—Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by John Mair, Martin Petty and Lincoln Feast