Town in Palawan seeks BRP Sierra Madre’s repair
The Manila Times
QUEZON town in Palawan has passed a resolution urging all municipalities in the province to allocate P500,000 in support of the proposal for the face-lifting of the grounded and deteriorating BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal that serves as a Philippine military outpost in the Spratlys. Authored by Councilor Ethel Olid of the municipality of Quezon, the resolution was unanimously approved by the council with the support of Mayor Joselito Ayala. Earlier, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. similarly pushed for the rehabilitation of BRP Sierra Madre, which has continued to rust away and deteriorate for lack of resources to maintain the outpost. The resolution has been gaining traction, especially after the chairman of the League of Municipalities (LMP) of Palawan, Mayor Amy Roa Alvarez of San Vicente Town, called on her colleagues to embrace the resolution. BRP Sierra Madre, formerly USS LST-821, served in the US Navy in World War 2. After the war, the tank landing ship was transferred to the Philippine Navy. As the territorial disputes intensified over the uninhabited islands in the South China Sea (SCS), the Philippine government had BRP Sierra Madre run aground in Ayungin Shoal to serve as an outpost of the Philippine Marine Corps to assert Philippine sovereign claims on that part of the Spratly Islands, 105 nautical miles from the province of Palawan. For decades, BRP Sierra Madre slowly deteriorated while being stuck in the shallow waters and has not undergone any repairs. As a councilor and a resident of Palawan, Olid said they would be the ones to first face any repercussions if the disputes in the West Philippine Sea flare up. With the approved resolution, Olid immediately consulted their budget officer to allocate P500,000 to be drawn from the town supplemental budget following Ayala’s recommendation. “If other towns would set aside P500,000, it would help a lot with the government problem to raise at least P150 million for the repair of BRP Sierra Madre. The matter had already been discussed in the Senate hearing,” Olid said. “I hope LMP President Mayor Alvarez could persuade their members to follow [Quezon town’s suit] and also allocate even a small amount,” Olid said. Meanwhile, the municipal council of Kalayaan town expressed gratitude for the initiative. “We welcome the resolution by the Sangguniang Bayan of Quezon as it is a manifestation of solidarity for us as Palaweño and as Filipinos,” a councilor in Kalayaan town said. Uplift soldiers’ living conditions Brawner clarified that the primary intention of such a plan is to uplift the living conditions of soldiers manning the Philippine feature in the West Philippine Sea, despite the aggressive posturing by Chinese vessels in the contested waters on the country’s western frontier. “We have the right to repair our [BRP Sierra Madre] vessel,” Brawner insisted. Brawner considered the vessel a Philippine post in Ayungin Shoal, outside of the Philippine mainland, and among the nine features that have the presence of military personnel. “We have to make sure that we consider it a post that is habitable for our soldiers,” said Brawner as he defended the rehabilitation of BRP Sierra Madre. Aside from Ayungin Shoal, the eight other Philippine-occupied structures are the Islands of Parola, Pag-asa, Kota, Panata, Likas, Lawak and Patag, and Rizal Reef.