Cabinet gagged on China; ex-generals assert sea rights

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

• Only Roque, who misreported Julian Felipe Reef as outside Philippine jurisdiction, may continue to speak on maritime issues.

• Retired AFP and service chiefs rally for unity against China threat.

President Duterte banned his Cabinet on Monday from talking about sea disputes amid months of China’s escalating incursions. “This is my order now to the Cabinet, and to all and sundry talking for the government, to refrain from discussing the West Philippine Sea with anybody,” he said in a late night recorded telecast. “If we talk, we talk but just among us.” Only his spokesman Harry Roque may speak on the matter, the President added.

Since March the foreign and defense offices have been rebuking China’s increasing numbers of maritime militia vessels trespassing the WPS. First, 220 trawlers “swarmed” and “threatened” Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef. Reinforced by a dozen more, they then spread out to poach in other reefs in Pagkakaisa Bank and in Kalayaan Islands municipality of Palawan. Last week the National Task Force-WPS reported at least 330 still there, plus in Recto (Reed) Bank. The WPS, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, is rich in fisheries, oil and gas.

After telling the intruders to leave to defuse tensions, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana was badmouthed by the Chinese embassy. Diplomatic protests are filed every day until they depart, according to Foreign Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Last week Roque misstated that Julian Felipe is outside the Philippine EEZ. Supposedly critics are fussing over it to assail Duterte’s appeasement policy towards Beijing. The National Task Force corrected him: Julian Felipe, 175 miles from Palawan, not only is within the EEZ; it is also within the 12-mile territorial waters of McKennan (Hughes) and Rurok (Sin Cowe) Isles of Kalayaan. Locsin reminded Roque that statements on international relations are the “exclusive remit” of the foreign office.

Also on Monday the Advocates for National Interest (ANI) called on Filipinos to “unite in assertion of our rights in the WPS.” Consisting of retired generals who took on other government and private positions, ANI said “China’s creeping aggression must be stopped (but) war is not the only option.”

ANI consists of, among others, Amb. Ramon Farolan, former defense chief Renato de Villa, former senator Rodolfo Biazon, former congressmen Plaridel Abaya and Ashley Acedillo, Commo. Plaridel Garcia, Col. Niceto Festin, former SSS administrator Renato Valencia, Police Gen. Recaredo Sarmiento, Col. Guillermo Cunanan, Col. Mariano Santiago, Maj. Gen. Melchor Rosales, Col. Alejandro Flores, Brig. Gen. Eliseo Rio Jr., Vice Adm. Emilio Marayag Jr., Gen. Alexander Yano, Gen. Eduardo Oban, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan (chairman).

Excerpts: “As our nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, let us remember how we Filipinos, more than a century ago, stood up to challenge a much stronger power in order to be freed from subjugation and bullying. Having realized the vital necessity of being united as a people, we zealously guarded and preserved our freedom and independence.

“Today we face a real threat to our nation’s security. China’s transgression of Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS, in violation of international law, jeopardizes our future. The vast resources of the WPS present a promise of deliverance for our people. But China is taking that away from us.

“The ANI strongly advocates a rules-based international order and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. We thank the international community for their unambiguous support for this principle.

“Notwithstanding our peaceful overtures, China employs coercion and intimidation to expand and maintain its unlawful presence in the WPS as seen in Julian Felipe Reef, Ayungin Shoal, Panganiban Reef and Bajo de Masinloc. China’s creeping aggression must be stopped.

“Employing ‘gray-zone’ tactics that are short of an armed attack, China uses strong-arm diplomacy, political intervention, legal warfare, informational, financial and economic coercive tools to secure its interests. It seeks to undermine our will to resist and to divide us from our traditional allies and friends.

“Now is the time to unite once again as a people. We must set aside any partisan political agenda and parochial interests. This conflict with China should serve to unify rather than divide us. The protection and defense of our sovereignty and territory is a national obligation.

“Our people should know that an information war is going on that uses psychological, propaganda and media tools to make us believe that their unlawful actions in the WPS are justified – the China narrative. Let us take the side of the Filipino people.

“War is not the only option left in order to defend our sovereignty and sovereign rights. We are not alone. There is a range of diplomatic, legal, informational tools or soft power that can be deftly used. We have allies, partners and friends willing to share the burden to keep a secure, stable and free-flowing trade through the South China Sea.”

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Paperback copies of “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” can be delivered to you by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. To order: https://shopee.ph/GOTCHA-by-Jarius-Bondoc-i.264837039.3870254862

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