Home Top News Philippines won’t publish schedule of resupply missions to disputed shoal

Philippines won’t publish schedule of resupply missions to disputed shoal

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BRP SIERRA MADRE, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live in as a military outpost, sits on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. — REUTERS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES on Monday said it would not announce the schedule of its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea after a June 17 standoff with Chinese forces that has prompted calls for de-escalation.

“We seek neither confirmation nor consent from anyone in performing our sworn duties in the West Philippine Sea,” Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Eduardo Gerardo C. Teodoro, Jr. told a news briefing at the presidential palace.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. after visiting troops involved in the latest resupply mission on Sunday “reiterated that we will not publish schedules of any RORE (rotation and resupply),” he added.

Mr. Teodoro said the incident was neither a misunderstanding nor an accident but a “deliberate act” of Chinese forces.

“We are not downplaying the incident,” he said. “It was an aggressive and illegal use of force.

A political analyst said Mr. Teodoro’s remarks contradicted an earlier statement by Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin, who on Friday said the incident was an “accident or a misunderstanding.”

Mr. Bersamin said the National Maritime Council had recommended that the Philippines publish the schedule of resupply missions to avoid tensions with China.

“The contradiction between the executive secretary and Defense secretary is a red flag that reeks of an uncoordinated Cabinet, and a President who may not exactly have full control of it,” said Hansley A. Juliano, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University.

The Philippines is a democratic state that does not bar public officials, including those under the Executive Branch, from discussing issues of public interest. China, on the other hand, is a one-party state that strictly controls free speech.

“In this case, it’s not really a question of ideology or form of government,” Mr. Juliano said. “It’s just basic leadership and internal management security which, despite Mr. Marcos’ previous actions, may still be compromised by remnants of Duterte loyalists inside the Cabinet.”

‘ARMED ATTACK’Chinese Coast Guard forces with bladed weapons on June 17 boarded Philippine rubber boats and looted several rifles stored in gun cases, actions that military chief Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. said only “pirates” do.

China’s coast guard also deployed tear gas, “blinding” strobe lights and sirens.

Despite their bladed weapons, Philippine Navy personnel “fought with bare hands,” Mr. Brawner said last week.

A Filipino Navy officer on a rubber boat lost his right thumb when the Chinese Coast Guard rammed it, he added.

“It is indeed within the Department of National Defense’s purview to showcase that Manila remains undeterred,” Joshua Bernard B. Espeña, vice president at International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He said announcing resupply missions goes against the Philippines’ assertive maritime transparency strategy, which was launched last year to expose Chinese aggression at sea.

“The caveat is to back it up with all tactics available on the table without triggering the Mutual Defense Treaty at the operational level, while keeping the Chinese guessing whether Manila would invoke it at the strategic level,” he added.

“China will likely adjust to the Defense department’s newly announced recourse soon, but the point is to strengthen enablers of this resolve, which refers to speedy backward and forward linkages of defense industries from the Philippines and its allies and partners, as well as a comprehensive logistics system to ensure flexibility and lethality of this course,” Mr. Espeña said.

“We cannot classify it as an armed attack because by international definition of an armed attack, it is the use of military force and excessive use of force that could trigger collective self-defense,” National Security Adviser Eduardo A. Año told Monday’s news briefing.

But China violated international and domestic laws, including an international convention on collisions at sea and another one banning the use of illegal force, he added.

Still, the June 17 encounter does not call for the convening of the National Security Council since “issues in the West Philippine Sea are effectively managed” by the National Maritime Council,” Mr. Año said.

“At this moment, we are not recommending the convening of the National Security Council. However, the President has the discretion to convene the full council or the executive committee anytime.”

Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, has been called on the Philippines to request formal consultations with the US under their Mutual Defense Treaty to assess “very clear threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro told the same briefing that Manila has discussed the issue with like-minded nations including the United States and continues to do something on the “diplomatic front.”

She said Philippines is still banking on a “bilateral consultative mechanism” with China on the South China Sea, which was a subject of her visit to Shanghai in January.

“There were discussions and some confidence-building measures that have been formulated,” Ms. Lazaro said. “And now, there are certain possibilities of us meeting again sometime in the near future.”

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