Sacked Wescom chief denies deal with China

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Sacked Wescom chief denies deal with China
Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Westerm Command Chief, speaks during an interview with the media at a port in Palawan on March 6, 2024.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

‘Chat with embassy military attaché illegally recorded’

MANILA, Philippines — The former commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (AFP-Wescom)  has denied entering into any agreement with China involving the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

During yesterday’s hearing of the Senate committee on national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos condemned the alleged wiretapping of his conversation with a Chinese embassy military attaché.

The Chinese embassy neither responded nor sent any representative to the Senate committee hearing – chaired by Senate Pro-Tempore
Jinggoy Estrada – investigating the alleged wiretapping of a ranking AFP official.

The Senate secretariat had sent an invitation, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on May 21, to the embassy and AFP-Wescom as the panel investigated a supposed conversation between Carlos and a Chinese official on a “new model” to de-escalate tensions.

Carlos maintained that he has no authority to enter into agreement with any country and that his main mandate is to conduct operations in the West Philippine Sea to ensure territorial integrity and that sovereign rights are protected.

“First, I admit I had a casual and informal conversation with the Chinese military attaché but I condemned the act of the Chinese embassy to record our conversation without my consent, much more to divulge it to the public in malicious twist and manipulation in order to appear that our discussion to be supportive of the narrative of PRC. I am not authorized to enter into agreements,” Carlos added.

“We did not discuss the ‘new model.’ We did not discuss the term. ‘Common understanding’ and ‘new model’ were not part of our conversation,” he said.

“I have not given up our sovereign rights and entitlement. I am a soldier for the Filipino people and I remain a loyal servant of the Republic,” Carlos told the Senate panel.

Carlos recalled that last January, Colonel Li of the Chinese military called him on the phone while he was aboard a ship in the West Philippine Sea. The conversation lasted three to five minutes.

“As the WesCom commander, I have done my very best to provide for the welfare of WesCom personnel. I did not enter into any secret deals that will compromise the interest of our country,” he added.

The AFP official insisted that he did not enter into any agreement with the official that would pose a threat to the Philippine territory and did not agree on the issue of bringing supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre in the West Philippine Sea, as China has insisted.

Further pressed by Estrada on the gist of the conversation, Carlos said the discussion was about exploring ways to reduce tensions in the WPS.

“From the conversation, the alleged new model came out?” Estrada asked, but Carlos said: “We did not discuss the new model (and it) was not part of our conversation.”

While the Chinese embassy snubbed the committee hearing, Carlos said the Chinese official sent him a message two days ago but he did not reply.

Carlos said he was ready to detail the content of the text messages and other things discussed in January in an executive session.

Earlier, the Chinese embassy had threatened to divulge the supposed transcript of the conversation between Carlos and the Chinese diplomat, where the embassy claimed that the Philippine official expressed compliance with the agreement for the “new model.”

Carlos said he did not know that their conversation was recorded and he said that he did not give permission for their conversation to be recorded.

An official said they have yet to investigate the alleged wiretapping incident but the AFP is willing to cooperate with the appropriate agencies.

Carlos has now been reassigned to the Headquarters Support Command (HSC) under the office of AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. in Camp Aguinaldo.

The military was, however, quick to dismiss the idea that Carlos is being punished or demoted.

AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said that his reassignment forms part of a normal occurrence in the military organization.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino asked Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Aileen Mendiola-Rau if there would be consequences for the alleged wiretapping involving the Chinese embassy.

Mendiola-Rau said that a diplomatic agent is immune from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state, except in cases involving real actions related to private immovable property (unless held for the mission), succession matters where the agent acts privately and professional or commercial activities outside their official duties.

Tolentino then asked if the DFA has the authority to declare diplomats as persona non grata and if the DFA is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

Mendiola-Rau replied that “the DFA would have to defer to the law enforcement agencies in looking into the reports of wiretapping.”

Department of Justice senior state counsel Frettie Ganchoon said there is an order from the Secretary of the DOJ to the National Bureau of Investigation to hear the testimony of Carlos about the authenticity of the transcript.

“This is the first time that we are hearing the sworn testimony of Vice Admiral Carlos. Because we are not sure before of the truthfulness and authenticity of the transcript, so we don’t know. But we have a testimony now that we can use that indeed there was a call and it was recorded and we can consider as violation of anti-wiretapping law,” she said.

Meanwhile, Estrada said “the alleged wiretapping incident is worrying. We should take steps about it. It’s even more disturbing that we can be manipulated by these Chinese officials. They can manipulate a conversation to disturb us to even suspect a bemedaled officer like Vice Admiral Carlos who faithfully serves our people.” –  Michael Punongbayan

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