Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday questioned the authority of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) to dish out press releases citing the nature of its organization as a “secret group”.
Locsin was reacting to the statement issued by the NTF-WPS over the weekend concerning confirmed reports from the Philippine Coast (PCG) on the alleged incursions of about 220 Chinese vessels last March 7 at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) which is located within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.
“The NTF does not issue press releases. It is a secret group. I’m the trigger and the gun. And I’ve never responded to press releases. The refuge of nobodies,” the country’s top diplomat said in a tweet.
Seemed caught unaware by the NTF press release on Saturday, Locsin said he is waiting for an order from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana before filing a diplomatic protest. Esperon chairs the NTF-WPS.
“Generals, I haven’t gotten the order to fire. Firing from a media outlet doesn’t score. In fact it’s sissy to turn to media outlets,” he said in a separate tweet.
Under Memorandum Order 94, the Philippine government created the NTF-WPS on March 17, 2016 to coordinate its policy on the South China Sea. It is chaired by the national security adviser and composed of undersecretaries from 15 different agencies including foreign affairs, national defense, environment and natural resources, energy, trade and industry, transportation and communications, the military, the police and fisheries and aquatic resources.
The creation of NTF-WPS came before the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague handed down its decision on July 12, 2016 in favor of the Philippine petition nullifying China’s excessive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.
When sought for comments on the latest Chinese incursion as reported by the NTF-WPS, Department of Foreign Affairs Executive Director for Strategic Communications Ivy Banzon-Abalos said any incident is usually verified by the agencies before they can even issue a statement.