DFA slams ‘blatant lie’ on West Philippine Sea patrols

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
DFA slams �blatant lie� on West Philippine Sea patrols
Cayetano said Alejano had been peddling lies and could have been a victim of a bum steer.
Senate PRIB, File | AP / Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday lashed out at Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano for claiming President Duterte had ordered the military to cease patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Cayetano said Alejano had been peddling lies and could have been a victim of a bum steer.

“Congressman Alejano was claiming the President had ordered a halt on all patrols in the South China Sea. This is a blatant lie,” Cayetano told reporters.

“I don’t know where he got that information, or maybe he was fed false information or simply he was peddling lies because he is running for senator,” he added.

Cayetano said he used to listen to Alejano, a critic of the Duterte administration, but now the opposition lawmaker has been telling lies.

“If he were saying we lacked more patrol, then we will listen. If he says the Coast Guard and the Navy has to modernize its fleet for patrol, then we will agree on that. But he was already peddling lies and false information, it’s a disservice to our people,” he said.

Cayetano also denied the Philippines lost part of its territory, including Sandy Cay, with Chinese coast guard vessels surrounding the area at all times, effectively seizing physical control.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has already denied Alejano’s allegations of losing Sandy Cay to the Chinese.

He also belied claims by Alejano that Chinese coast guard personnel harassed Filipino fishermen and seized their haul off Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in Zambales.

“Congressman Alejano said this during a hearing and before the media. This is not true, otherwise the fishermen there would revolt,” he said.

Alejano, on the other hand, maintained the veracity of his information, saying these came from sources which he refused to identify.

“It’s not a bum steer. I am 100 percent sure because the person, the source, has the authority and he relayed to me the information personally,” he said.

Alejano clarified he did not say the President gave the order but Malacañang.

“It was an order from Malacañang. From what I understand, it was delivered in a meeting. It was given directly,” Alejano said over dzBB.

He said the order was issued during a meeting with the AFP top brass.

“It is assumed that since the order came from Malacañang, it has the authority of the President. I never mentioned the name of the President. But since it is an order from Malacañang, it has the authority of the President,” he explained.

“The information was there was this instruction to halt all patrols in the Scarborough Shoal and the West Philippine Sea because nothing will happen and it might offend China,” Alejano said.

Asked about the sentiments of the military, Alejano, a former Marine captain, said many in the AFP are disgruntled with how Duterte has been dealing with the West Philippine Sea issue.

Blatant disregard

Vice President Leni Robredo, for her part, raised concern over the reported harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese Coast Guard in Panatag Shoal.

Robredo said the incident occured “clearly within the country’s exclusive economic zone.”

“This is a blatant disregard of the rights of Filipinos and the authority of the Republic of the Philippines over Panatag Shoal in line with the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Robredo said, referring to the arbitral tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines in July 2016.

Robredo said the government should act on the issue.

“For the sake of the welfare of our fishermen, any hesitation on the part of our government over the continuous encroachment in our waters by other countries should be set aside right away,” she said.

“We are hoping for this administration’s speedy and firm response to this challenge,” Robredo added.

The Vice President has repeatedly called on the government to file a diplomatic protest against China over its continued militarization in the disputed features of the South China Sea.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said the government must seek monetary compensation from China for preventing Filipinos from fishing in Panatag Shoal.

“We should demand damages from China for economic loss that our fishermen suffer. This can be done by filing another case before the arbitral tribunal,” he suggested.

Carpio, an expert on South China Sea issues who was part of the Philippine team that won the arbitration case against China in 2012, believed Beijing should be made accountable for violating the PCA ruling that upheld Filipinos’ traditional right to fish in the shoal.

“We should take that course of action to protect the interest of our fishermen,” he stressed.

The senior magistrate explained that the arbitral tribunal ruling was clear in giving Filipino fishermen the right to fish in the territorial sea of Panatag Shoal.

“But China violated this when its coast guard vessels continue to prevent our fishermen from fishing inside the lagoon,” he pointed out, citing the recent incident where Chinese coast guard harassed Filipino fishermen and practically confiscated their catch.

“That is not correct. We should protest and bring another case against China for not complying with the ruling,” he added.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, Netherlands had ruled in July 2012 in favor of the Philippines against China’s claims over South China Sea territories, but the super power has not recognized the ruling.

In the ruling, the PCA invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

It also held that Beijing violated its commitment under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in building artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The tribunal ruled that Panatag Shoal is a rock, which is allowed only a 12-nautical mile territorial sea and has no EEZ or continental shelf.

It has found that China failed to respect traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen by preventing access to the shoal after May 2012.

The PCA also ruled that China breached its obligations under the UNCLOS by operating its law enforcement vessels in the vicinity of Panatag Shoal, creating serious risk of collision and danger to Philippine vessels and personnel.

Carpio has been pushing for the filing of protest against China.

Last month, Carpio made the same pitch against the increasing militarization of China in contested areas in the South China Sea, which he branded as a “creeping invasion.”

At that time, Carpio cited the reported deployment by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force of China of H-6K long-range bomber that can carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles on Woody Island.

He said the Philippine government must formally protest such action of China that he believed was an “encroachment on its sovereignty and sovereign rights.”

“Failure to formally protest means the Philippines is acquiescing or consenting to the militarization, and worse, to the claim of China that all the islands, waters and resources within the nine-dash line formed part of Chinese territory,” Carpio warned.

He explained that the Philippines has sovereignty over Zamora (Subi) Reef and Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef as well as exclusive sovereign rights over Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as earlier declared by the UN’s arbitral tribunal.

Carpio alleged the militarization of the Spratlys and the Paracels is part of China’s “Three-Warfare Strategy” to control the South China Sea for economic and military purposes.

He said the superpower would construct huge air and naval bases and introduce nuclear-armed strategic bombers – as it is doing now – to intimidate into submission other claimant-states to accept the nine-dash line as China’s national boundary in the South China Sea. – With Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Edu Punay

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