Philippine Marines Drew Firearms as China Seized Second Thomas Shoal Airdrop, Says Philippine Military Chief

June 4, 2024 6:04 PM
Chinese and Philippine Armed Forces boats rigid hull inflatable boats clash near Second Thomas Shoal. AFP Image

The contingent of Philippine Marines onboard BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) at Second Thomas Shoal reportedly drew their weapons as China Coast Guard boats moved in to take packages from a resupply airdrop.

Philippine military officials said this week that Chinese rigid hull inflatable boats intercepted an aerial resupply drop destined for Marines aboard BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in an incident last month on May 19. This incident saw the vessels come as close as five meters to the grounded Second World War-era landing ship tank, which Manila grounded at the disputed shoal in 1999.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner said that the Marines deployed their weapons as a “precautionary measure” in self-defense.

“It’s part of the rules of engagement. That whenever you see imminent threats coming your way, you best be prepared,” said Brawner about the incident.

Chinese state media claimed that the Philippine Marines were pointing guns at China Coast Guard officers and released a video of the incident from the Chinese perspective that depicts two Philippine personnel onboard Sierra Madre wielding firearms. These claims were denied in a statement by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, citing the need for “heightened vigilance and alertness” because of the “CCG’s provocative presence near BRP Sierra Madre.”

According to the Philippine military, the China Coast Guard reportedly tore open the packages and threw their contents of foodstuffs into the water. Brawner said that may have been searching for construction materials, which Beijing has constantly cited as a reason for their interceptions of Philippine resupply missions to Sierra Madre. While most of the supplies sank, some were recovered by Philippine personnel. However, officials cited the overall resupply operation as a success as the majority of the other airdropped packages were recovered.

Two separate incidents also occurred last month around the disputed South China Sea feature. According to the Inquirer newspaper, the China Coast Guard obstructed a medical evacuation mission from Sierra Madre on May 19. The third incident occurred on May 24, which reportedly involved the use of water cannons by Chinese forces to force away a Philippine civilian fishing vessel from the proximity of the shoal.

This series of incidents are the first to be reported by Manila since March when Chinese water cannons injured Philippine personnel and damaged a vessel during a resupply mission to Sierra Madre.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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