MANILA – The Philippines has requested “real time assistance” from the US in resupplying and rotating Manila’s forces in the South China Sea due to constant harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman stated last Thursday. Colonel Restituto Padilla said the defense ministry had asked U.S. Pacific Command chief, Admiral Harry Harris, to provide air cover to Philippine civilian ship that regularly delivers supplies to Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed waters.
“It was a specific request to Admiral Harris to get their assistance in resupplying and rotating troops,” Padilla told AFP. He elaborated that Philippines had faced Chinese harassment, particularly when resupplying and rotating troops based on a grounded WWII-era ship on a remote shoal in the Spratly islands.
Philippines marines are on a rotational call for every 5 months to guard an old abandoned World War 2 ship, (Sierra Madre/pictured above). The ship has been strategically grounded in the hotly disputed waters surrounding the Second Thomas Shoal to mark Manila’s claim to the reef in the Spratly archipelago . However since early 2014, Philippines small navy reinforcement team constantly face intimidation from China’s bigger coastguard ships when approaching Sierra Madre to reinforce and rotate troops on board.
Sierra Madre has always been described as a “derelict,” and nuisance by China, however the Philippines government recently described it as a “commissioned naval vessel, which was placed in Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to serve as a permanent Philippine government installation.
In possible scenarios, apart from providing air cover – the US Navy can potentially escort side by side with Philippines navy team or have Philippines troops on board a US Navy ship heading towards Sierra Madre. Though this should also be treaded with care, as each strategy could have a different projected level of ‘US involvement’ in the Philippines and China SCS dispute.