By Priam Nepomuceno and Ma. Teresa Montemayor

DND Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – China’s latest statement to justify its illegal presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is a “charade” and only aims to divide Filipinos over the issue, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. said on Sunday.

“This charade must stop. I am issuing this statement to generate awareness on this clear attempt by China to advance another falsehood in order to divide our people and distract us from their unlawful presence and actions in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” he said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Saturday claimed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) made repeated confirmations that the “new model” for the handling of raising tensions in the WPS have been approved by key Philippine government officials, including Teodoro and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año.

China also claimed that it has records of “communication and negotiation” on this matter and that it has nothing to do with the sovereign positions of the two countries.

“I would like to clearly state that any insinuation that the Department of National Defense is a party to any new model is a devious machination of China through their Embassy in Manila, and it is curious that it comes right after their actions were condemned in the recent Squad meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, Japanese Minister of Defense Kihara Minoru, and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles met at the Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii on May 2.

The four ministers “strongly” objected to the dangerous use of China Coast Guard and militia vessels and are seriously concerned over the ongoing situation in the East and South China Sea.

Teodoro reiterated that he had disallowed any contact between the DND and the Chinese Embassy since the courtesy call of Ambassador Huang Xilian, a few days after he assumed office in July last year.

“During the said courtesy call, there was no discussion or briefing on any gentleman’s agreement or new model, which is contrary to the Chinese Embassy’s pronouncements,” Teodoro said, contradicting China’s claims that there was an exchange of views on “China-Philippines military relations, and maritime issues, among other things.”

Teodoro reminded all Filipino citizens, the media, and the international community to beware of China’s methods of manipulation, interference, and malign influence in furthering its own interests.

‘Absolutely absurd’

Año, meanwhile, said the Chinese Embassy’s latest version of the “new model” arrangement is “absolutely absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous.”

“After the courtesy call of the Chinese Ambassador to my office early last year, I have not talked to any official from the Chinese Embassy directly or indirectly on any matter, much more to discuss any arrangement or deal with regards to our rightful and routinary resupply operations in Ayungin Shoal,” Año said in a statement.

He said no one in the Philippine government is, nor have been, empowered nor authorized “to enter into or commit to any sort of agreement, understanding, or arrangement — more so informal ones, by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.”

Año emphasized that no principals or officials from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea have consented nor committed to any proposal that will compromise national interest.

“Nor will we ever even entertain proposals principally premised or grounded on the illegal, debunked, and fabricated 9 or 10-dash line,” he added.

Año reminded the Chinese Embassy that it can never deceive the Filipino people with their fabricated stories, bluffs, and fake exchanges of communication just to support China’s illegal claim of Philippine territory and its aggressive actions against Filipino ships and their crews going about their lawful business in the WPS.

The bigger story that the embassy wants to avoid, according to Año, is the piling of dead corral ruble in Pag-asa Cays 1,2,3 which is meant to create a high tide man-made geologic feature between Pag-asa Island and Subi reef.

He said it is an attempt to reverse the findings of the 2016 arbitral ruling, which sided with the Philippines’ territorial claims in the WPS.

“This is the bigger story that they want to dislodge from the headlines and deflect attention from. It has truly reached a new low of pathetic desperation,” Año said.

He bared that the Chinese Embassy created a chat group with select members of the media to manipulate the information environment.

He said the entire “arrangement story” is clearly fake news and disinformation and it will be the last time he will ever comment on the issue.

“We enjoin our friends and partners in the media to remember that this has been definitively put to rest by no less than the President of our Republic. The next time the Chinese Embassy release fake news and disinformation similar to these, we ask that you and everyone kindly view and treat these releases for what they really are: a waste of yours and everyone’s time,” he added. 

‘Not aware’

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said such disinformation or insinuations against Philippine officials by China create confusion and distract everyone from the real issues — China’s unfounded claims and illegal and aggressive actions in the Philippine waters.

“The Philippines has been earnest in seeking ways to reduce tensions with China through established diplomatic channels,” it said, adding that it is “not aware” of any “new model arrangement” in Ayungin Shoal referred to by the Chinese Embassy.

The DFA urged China to “favorably consider the standing Philippine invitation” to convene the next meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea the soonest possible time “if it is serious about properly managing the differences at sea.”

“On issues of such importance, any agreements or arrangements would be made only if authorized at the highest level of government,” the DFA said.

“That the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Adviser have both denied the existence of any informal arrangements on the Ayungin Shoal shows the untruthfulness of China’s narrative.”

The DFA reaffirmed its position that the Philippines has not entered into any agreement “abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf including Ayungin Shoal.” (PNA)