In the 2023 Paramount Pictures science fiction movie, “Transformers: the Rise of the Beasts,” Noah Diaz was stealing a Porsche 911 when the car transformed into a robot, an autobot.

The autobots joined forces with the maximals to fight the planet-eating Unicron for possession of the Transwarp key that would allow the autobots, led by Optimus Prime, to return to their homeworld, Cybertron.

In the real world, China was trying to stop the Philippines from transforming a rusting World War II-vintage transport ship, BRP Sierra Madre, into an “Optimus Prime” by repairing the vessel and keeping it from falling apart.

In 1999, BRP Sierra Madre ran aground intentionally on Second Thomas Shoal or Ayungin Shoal in the South China Sea after China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995.

The real purpose of getting BRP Sierra Madre stuck to coral reefs on Ayungin Shoal was to prevent China from moving closer to Palawan and occupying more uninhabited features in the contested South China Sea.

For decades, BRP Sierra Madre has watched over the vast South China Sea, protecting the country’s security interests.

BRP Sierra Madre remained in active duty as a Philippine Navy vessel despite its dilapidated condition.

Under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, Manila can invoke the treaty in case of an attack on a Philippine public vessel in the South China Sea. It means the US can come in to defend an ally and go to war against any hostile country attacking its ally.

Over the years as BRP Sierra Madre remained stationary on Ayungin Shoal, corrosion has weakened the transport ship’s superstructure.

When the Philippine military brought a group of journalists in 2014 aboard BRP Sierra Madre, they had to tiptoe as there were already huge holes on the ship’s deck.

China was fully aware of BRP Sierra Madre’s condition and was waiting for the vessel to collapse because there is nothing the Philippines can do to save the ship from corrosion.

However, China was also aware of Philippines efforts to repair BRP Sierra Madre and keep it together and prevent it from falling apart a quarter of a century since it ran around in Ayungin Shoal.

Nearly a decade ago when the military brought a group of journalists to BRP Sierra Madre, Chinese coast guard and militia vessels had been trying to stop and chase away local vessels from getting near the decrepit navy vessel.

China was afraid the local boats would be bringing in materials, like iron rods, steel plates, and cement to repair the vessel.

Even before the military brought some journalists to BRP Sierra Madre, the navy had started repairing the ship to prevent it from collapsing.

The Philippine Navy hired civilian wooden boats to bring construction materials to BRP Sierra Madre, fortifying the belly of the mammoth transport vessel.

It was too late when the Chinese learned about the incremental repairs made inside BRP Sierra Madre, as it kept on waiting for the ship to collapse.

The shadowing and blocking of local vessels transporting troops, food, water, and other materials began after China realized the Philippines had been rushing the repairs of BRP Sierra Madre.

The Chinese usually tail or shadow any Philippine vessel on its way to Ayungin Shoal, suspecting it of carrying materials to be used to repair BRP Sierra Madre.

In the latest shadowing and blocking incident near Ayungin Shoal, two large Chinese coast guard vessels shadowed two Philippine Coast Guard vessels escorting two civilian wooden boats on a resupply mission as well as bringing fresh troops to BRP Sierra Madre.

The Chinese Coast Guard came close to 100 yards of the Philippine Coast Guards and would have collided, but the Philippine vessels took evasive actions.

A few nautical miles ahead, six Chinese militia vessels had strategically blocked the Philippine Coast Guard vessels.

Not far from the eight Chinese vessels, two Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy were closely watching the sea drama.

Meanwhile, the wooden boats got through the Chinese blockade and delivered the troops, food, water, and other materials.

The wooden boats were able to navigate through the shallow waters in Ayungin Shoal, which the large Chinese vessels could not do so.

The Philippines and China have been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game in Ayungin Shoal.

But the Philippines would always outsmart and outwit China as the local wooden boats would break through the blockade and deliver supplies.

China had no legal rights to shadow and block Philippine boats on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

In the first place, China should not send ships in waters within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

China is violating the Philippine sovereign rights in the South China Sea and is clearly violating international laws, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China must stop its coercive actions in the South China Sea and must recognize the landmark 2016 arbitral decision that nullified its excessive nine-dash-line claim on the South China Sea.

China’s interest in Ayungin Shoal is to see BRP Sierra Madre fall apart. When that happens, Beijing will be surprised if an Optimus Prime emerges from a rusty ship.