Marcos on sea dispute: Our drumbeat is peace

MORAL SUPPORT President Marcos commends the 80 soldiers of the Philippine Navy who took part in the rotation and resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal on June 17. —PRESIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE

MORAL SUPPORT President Marcos commends the 80 soldiers of the Philippine Navy who took part in the rotation and resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal on June 17. —Presidential Communications Office

MANILA, Philippines — In the wake of escalating maritime confrontations with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sunday said the Philippines is “not in the business of instigating war” and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully.

“The Philippines is a responsible state. We will continue to exercise our freedoms and rights in support of our national interest, in accordance with international law,” he said in a speech before members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) in Puerto Princesa City.

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The visit followed almost a week after the June 17 confrontation between personnel of the Philippine Navy and the China Coast Guard (CCG).

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READ: AFP chief: China Coast Guard used bolos, acted like pirates

Before Marcos’ remarks at Wescom, Malacañang officials on Friday played down that incident as a “misunderstanding or an accident.”

On Saturday, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commodore Jay Tarriela echoed Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin’s remarks that “We’re not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack.”

Tarriela, who had been critical of the CCG’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea, also said “We don’t see any reason [for] any foreign actors to support our ordinary and routine resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre,” the grounded vessel that serves as the Philippines’ outpost in Ayungin.

READ: West Philippine Sea: Navy says PH won’t fire first bullet against CCG

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Manila’s Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington calls for each other’s defense in case of an armed attack, which is how some observers regard the events of June 17.

The ramming by the CCG of a Navy boat severed a Filipino sailor’s thumb as he and his team were out for the rotation and resupply (Rore) mission to the Sierra Madre. The Chinese also rammed and towed the Philippine boats, wielded bolos and spears at the Filipino troops and deployed tear gas in the ensuing commotion.

But as the Philippines seeks to perform its duty to defend its sovereign rights, it would not resort to the “use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” the President said.

“Our great ambition is to provide a peaceful and prosperous life for every Filipino. This is the drumbeat, this is the principle that we live by and that we march by,” he added.

During his visit to Wescom, Marcos met with the sailor, SN1 Jeffrey Facundo, and the other Navy personnel in the June 17 mission to Ayungin and also led an awarding ceremony in their honor.

Incident of many firsts

The Philippines would not be dragged into “playing by the rules that force it to choose sides in a great power competition,” the President pointed out.

“No government that truly exists in the service of the people will invite danger or harm to lives and livelihood. And that is why, in defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” he said.

The President lauded the Filipino troops involved in the latest incident with the CCG for “exercising the greatest restraint amid intense provocation,” even as he stressed that the government continues to “stand firm” in defending its territories.

Last week’s resupply mission featured many firsts, including the use of military rubber boats and the deployment of members of the Naval Special Operations Group, an elite unit of the Philippine Navy.

However, it also saw China’s most violent actions toward a resupply mission so far, and the first time that the military totally failed to complete the task.

Mum on details

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), the agency overseeing various government units for a more coherent approach in addressing the sea dispute, was caught off-guard to immediately respond to the statements of the Chinese coast guard accusing the Philippines of intruding into its waters, as it was kept out of the loop from the June 17 resupply operation, according to an administration official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak about the matter publicly, said the operation was executed on an operational level, bypassing the task force.

Vice Adm. Alfonso Torres Jr. of the Western Command earlier took full responsibility of the operation as ground commander, but said that the Department of National Defense (DND) and the AFP were aware of the plan and apparently did not object to it.

According to security officials knowledgeable of planning resupply missions who spoke on condition of anonymity, a supply run plan must first be concurred by the NTF-WPS and the DND-AFP before its execution, and may oppose the scheme proposed by Wescom.

The lack of coordination over the resupply mission on June 17 made it difficult for the task force to quickly counter China’s allegations. The DND and the AFP were also tight-lipped the entire day, while the PCG kept its distance, saying it was not their operation.

Sources in the military said there was a news blackout but were mum on who gave the order.

According to the same administration official, the embassies, including the United States, apparently already informed of what really happened, were already eager to issue statements to condemn China’s actions but no one was speaking from the Philippine side.

The NTF-WPS only issued a statement on Monday evening, denouncing the “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing” by Chinese vessels, but did not offer the full details. The DND later released a brief statement condemning the incident, but without full context of what had transpired.

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It was US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson’s statement in the same evening that first confirmed a “bodily injury” toward Filipino personnel during the operation.

The AFP would speak publicly on the details of the incident only two days later, during the visit of AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. to Wescom.

For comprehensive coverage, in-depth analysis, and the latest updates on the West Philippine Sea issue, visit our special site here. Stay informed with articles, videos, and expert opinions.

TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines, West Philippine Sea

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