Sen. Estrada: No deal to remove BRP Sierra Madre during my father’s presidency

(CNN) Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — Senator Jinggoy Estrada said the administration of his father, former President Erap Estrada, never made any deal with the Chinese government to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

The BRP Sierra Madre is a World War II-era ship that was deliberately grounded at Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a military outpost over the contested waters.

“During my phone conversation today with former Senator Orly Mercado, who held the position of Defense Secretary during my father’s tenure, he confirmed that there was ‘no agreement or promise’ whatsoever made to the Chinese government,” Estrada said in a statement Monday. His father was president from June 1998 to January 2001.

In a previous interview with CNN Philippines, Chinese diplomatic sources claimed Manila promised Beijing that it would tow away the outpost.

READ: China says no point in showing proof of Ayungin Shoal deal if Marcos already rescinded it

Estrada’s brother, Sen. JV Ejercito similarly denied that such a deal had ever been set.

“Any assertion of such a commitment contradicts the rationale behind the government’s decision at that time to station BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal. This move was primarily undertaken to assert our country’s claim and establish a presence in the area,” Estrada continued.

Beijing asked Manila to tow away the “illegally grounded” ship after the Chinese Coast Guard fired a water cannon at Filipino vessels on a resupply mission to the outpost last Aug. 5.

READ: Chinese coast guard fired water cannons at PH vessels en route to Ayungin Shoal – PCG

In response, Marcos said that the ship would stay and that the supposed deal on its removal was rescinded.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines likewise said any attempt by a foreign nation to move the station would be met with resistance.

China claims Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal, which it calls the Ren’Ai Reef, is part of its Nansha Island, or the Spratly Islands.

However, in 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea said the Ayungin Shoal was a low-tide elevation within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), meaning China’s claim over the feature had no legal basis.

The landmark ruling nullified Beijing’s sweeping claim over the South China Sea.