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‘WPS clash deliberate, not a misunderstanding’

NOT A MISUNDERSTANDING. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro says the violent encounter between Philippine Navy sailors and Chinese forces in Ayungin shoal was deliberate and not an accident. He elaborated on a joint statement signed by National Security Council chief Eduardo Ano and Undersecretary Teresa Lazaro of the Department of Foreign Affairs at a press conference at the Malacanang Palace yesterday.
Charles Dantes, Rex Espiritu & Rachelle Tonelada

DND chief clarifies Bersamin’s ‘preliminary assessment’

The attack on Philippine Navy troops near Ayungin Shoal by China Coast Guard and militia on June 17 was “deliberate,” the Defense and Foreign Affairs secretaries and the National Security Adviser said in a joint statement, departing from the earlier pronouncement of Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin that the incident was only a “misunderstanding.”

Former US Air Force officer Ray Powell, for his part, said Bersamin’s use of the words “misunderstanding” and “accident” were “unfortunate.”

“This is clearly not an accident, it is clearly not a misunderstanding. These were deliberate acts by the China Coast Guard,” Powell told ABS-CBN News in a virtual interview.

“I think that the idea behind using terms like that was toward de-escalation. But we need to be very careful when we consider de-escalation as an outcome, that we don’t sort of fall into the trap,” Powell added.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Bersamin’s position, which came four days after the brutal attack that caused one Filipino soldier to lose his thumb, was only a “preliminary assessment.”

“We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” read the joint statement issued by Teodoro, acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro, and NSA Eduardo Año during a Palace briefing Monday.

“After our visit to our troops in Palawan yesterday (Sunday), where the President personally talked to the troops involved in the RORE (rotation and reprovision mission) we have now come to a conclusion that it was not a misunderstanding or an accident.”

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

President Marcos also thumbed down Bersamin’s recommendation to announce RORE missions, Teodoro said.

”The President has reiterated that we will not publish schedules of any RORE,” he said.

”We reiterate that we seek neither permission nor consent from anyone in performing our sworn duties in the West Philippine Sea. In this regard we will continue our rotation and resupply missions on a regular basis, the welfare of our troops in the BRP Sierra Madre being a matter of utmost importance,” Teodoro added.

On Friday, Bersamin said the Ayungin incident was a “misunderstanding” and should not be considered an armed attack that could trigger the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

“This was probably a misunderstanding or an accident. We’re not ready to say this was an armed attack just yet,” Bersamin said.

On Saturday, National Task Force on West Philippine Sea spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela echoed Bersamin’s remarks, saying it was not China’s intention to escalate tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

“There is no reason for us to interpret this as an armed attack because China’s intention here is just to prevent the resupply from being successful…Basically, it’s just a blockade,” Tarriela said.

Teodoro, for his part, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to both defending its territory and pursuing peaceful solutions through diplomatic channels.

“We are a responsible state, but we will not be intimidated. Diplomacy is part of our responsibilities as a responsible country. This mandate comes strongly from our President and our armed forces to uphold our sovereignty,” he said.

Lazaro said diplomatic efforts are ongoing, including the bilateral consultative mechanism on the South China Sea which is a long-standing forum for discussions with China.

“We are doing something on the diplomatic front. We have a mechanism that has been in existence for quite a number of years. The last time we met was on January 17 when I went to Shanghai. We had discussions and came up with some confidence-building measures,” she said.

Lazaro mentioned the possibility of another meeting in the near future, although dates have yet to be set.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is clear on our direction, and we continue to engage in discussions with China through this consultative mechanism,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Australian ambassadors to Vietnam and the Philippines expressed their support to the United Nations Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the legally binding documents that “obligates us all.”

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu said on X: “This commitment is a cornerstone of regional peace, security and prosperity.”

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink over the weekend said China’s recent actions were “deeply destabilizing.”

“I wanna underscore the depth of our concern by many of the actions that we have seen that People’s Republic of China did in the South China Sea. We think that China’s action, particularly in its recent actions around Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin) in the Philippines, have been irresponsible, aggressive, dangerous, and deeply destabilizing,” Kritenbrink said.

“Many of China’s actions that we have seen are also illegal. It is a great concern for the entire region,” he added.

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