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Marcos: Philippines must do more than just file protests versus China

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PRESIDENT FERDINAND R. MARCOS, JR. — PHILIPPINE STAR/RYAN BALDEMOR

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Thursday said the Philippines must do more beyond filing diplomatic protests against China, which he accused of deliberately and illegally blocking a resupply mission in the South China Sea that led to a standoff on June 17.

“We have filed over a hundred protests, we have already made a similar number of demarches,” he told reporters. “We have to do more than just that.”

The Philippine leader said actions by China’s coast guard men were not an armed attack. “No one fired a shot. They did not point guns at us, but it was a deliberate action to stop our people.”

“Although there were no arms involved, nonetheless, it is still a deliberate action, and it is essentially an illegal action that was taken by the Chinese forces,” Mr. Marcos said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

The President said the government has been in constant communication with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xillian over recent incidents in the South China Sea that have worsened tensions between the two neighbors.

“Our objection, we have made it very clear not only to the ambassador but also to Beijing,” Mr. Marcos said. “So it will really depend on how formal we want to make this complaint.”

Chinese Coast Guard men with bladed weapons on June 17 boarded Philippine rubber boats and looted several rifles, actions that Philippine military chief Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. said only “pirates” do. 

A Filipino Navy officer on a rubber boat lost his right thumb when the Chinese Coast Guard rammed the army’s boat, the military said.

China has disputed the Philippine account, saying the measures it had taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo on Wednesday said Manila has filed a note verbale to China, expressing concern over the June 17 standoff.

The Philippines does not plan to engage in defense talks with China, Defense Secretary Gilberto Eduardo C. Teodoro, Jr. told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that is looking into the latest incident.

On Monday, he said the Philippines would not announce the schedule of its resupply missions to the shoal, where a handful of Filipino troops live on a World War II-era ship that Manila grounded in 1999 to bolster its sea claim.

Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin earlier said the encounter was not an armed attack and was probably a “misunderstanding or accident.”

Mr. Marcos said his Cabinet secretary made the statement because they were still studying whether the standoff could have been caused by miscommunication.

He said Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command chief Rear Admiral Alfonso F. Torres, Jr. had briefed him on the incident, which the President said was “clearly not a misunderstanding.”

The Philippines under Mr. Marcos has filed 164 diplomatic protests against China, 31 of which were filed this year, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza said in a WhatsApp message.

Manila is trying to hold talks with China to discuss the sea, Mr. Manalo told senators on Tuesday.

NOT SEEKING US HELPMeanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday spoke with Mr. Teodoro on the phone to discuss last week’s standoff, according to the US State Department.

“Secretary Austin underscored continued US support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights, and the two officials discussed the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.

Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel G. Romualdez said the Philippines had not asked the United States for support in resupplying its troops at Second Thomas Shoal.

The US was providing only “visuals” to help view the situation around the ship, he told reporters in Washington.

Manila, which has a long-standing defense treaty with the US, has complained that the Chinese Coast Guard had used “aggressive and illegal force” during last week’s standoff.

Manila’s patience was being stretched by China’s actions, but it was hoping for talks to deescalate tensions with Beijing as soon as July, and did not want to invoke the US treaty, the Philippine envoy said.

“We would like to be able to supply our soldiers on our own without really bringing in any third party because, as I said, this is our territory, which we’ve made very clear from the very beginning,” he said. “And so, we have not asked the United States for any assistance whatsoever.”

Mr. Romualdez said the Philippines had sought a meeting with Chinese officials to ease tensions, not resolve territorial claims, and hoped it would occur “maybe early next month.”

He noted that Philippine failure to deliver food and other supplies to its troops would amount to “killing our soldiers” through starvation and thirst.

“I don’t think China wants to have a major conflict. And definitely, we do not want to have one. And so, that’s a good starting point,” he added. — with Reuters

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