China’s latest actions not an armed attack – Palace

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
China�s latest actions not an armed attack � Palace
Members of the Chinese coast guard holding knives and machetes as they approach Philippine troops on a resupply mission in Ayungin on June 17.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines — The June 17 incident in the West Philippine Sea where Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) personnel rammed and boarded a Philippine Navy vessel that led to the injury of one of its crew could not yet be considered an armed attack as defined under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

At a press conference in Malacañang yesterday, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and Presidential Assistant on Maritime Concerns Andres Centino said the Philippines will not yet invoke the MDT with the US.

“Well, you know this was probably a misunderstanding or an accident. We’re not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack. I don’t know whether the ones we saw is bolo, axe, nothing beyond that,” Bersamin said.

Centino, a former Armed Forces chief, said the invocation of the MDT was not tackled during the National Maritime Council (NMC) meeting.

The press conference was called after the NMC, chaired by Bersamin, convened and decided to recommend to President Marcos that subsequent rotation and resupply (RORE) missions to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal would be made public so as not to give Beijing reason to block Philippine vessels.

Centino said the President viewed the latest confrontation in the WPS with concern.

Asked how Marcos reacted upon learning of the incident, he said the President has always been composed and immediately asked concerned Cabinet secretaries to discuss the matter with him.

Bersamin said the Council agreed on policy recommendations for the President’s consideration, including the announcement of RORE missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, which shall remain routinary and will be scheduled regularly.

Asked whether the military would be the ones to conduct the RORE, Bersamin said it would remain a civilian effort.

“But you must realize also that the people there in Sierra Madre are military components. So if ever there is a rotation, you replace those people there. To that extent, that’s military,” he said.

Bersamin said they could not say whether the reason for China’s latest aggression was because there was no prior knowledge on the resupply missions.

“They knew that we had to resupply, that we were resupplying, it’s just a normal routinary matter,” he said.

Bersamin said the Philippines remains open to talks with China to lessen the tension in the WPS.

“Those are matters pertained to a proper office – the Department of Foreign Affairs – and we have yet to receive feedback from the relevant officials of the DFA,” Bersamin said when asked whether there were efforts to reach out to Beijing following the June 17 incident.

“But reaching out is always a means to look at the situation, to resolve any pending issues or concern,” Bersamin said.

He said the government is not yet considering elevating the WPS issue to a higher international body.

“That’s not yet under consideration because I think this is a matter that can easily be resolved very soon by us, and if China wants to work with us, we can. We’ll work with China,” Bersamin said.

In his opening statement, Bersamin said the Council recognizes “a peaceful, stable and prosperous WPS and South China Sea is still a distant reality.”

“Security challenges remain in Philippine waters beyond the West Philippine Sea. Therefore, policies and strategies must be anchored on promoting the national interests of a maritime and archipelagic country,” he said. 

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