Image Copyright: Bullit Marquez / AP
By Jim Gomez
Copyright: The Associated Press
ABOARD BRP SIERRA MADRE, SPRATLY ISLANDS — On board the crumbling carcass of this World War II-era warship, Filipino marine 1st Lt. Mike Pelotera and his eight men make their way to a mid-level deck to raise the Philippine flag up a leaning pole and then salute it. Across the calm, turquoise waters, two Chinese coast guard ships lurk, looking on.
Its hull riddled with holes and rust, the BRP Sierra Madre has become a fragile symbol of the Philippines’ claim to Second Thomas Shoal, an eight-kilometer (five-mile) -long submerged coral outcrop that has been disputed by China and the Philippines for years.