DND: Ayungin incident a 'deliberate aggressive action' by China, not an accident

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said that the recent Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal incident was a "deliberate aggressive action" and not a misunderstanding or accident.

 Department of National Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro on Tuesday, June 25, 2024, attends the Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on the alleged anti-vaccine propaganda by the US military during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Ayungin Shoal incident that took place on June 17, 2024 and caused  injury to a Philippine Navy personnel.  (PRIB photo)

This was clarified by Teodoro during the Senate inquiry of the Committee on Foreign Relations into the resupply mission on June 17, 2024 that turned violent leading to the dismemberment of the right thumb of an elite Filipino trooper.

During the hearing, Senator Imee Marcos asked about the official position of the Philippine government on the incident amid the "confusion" from the different statements provided by General Romeo Brawner Jr., Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and the DND.

Marcos recalled that Brawner considered the actions of the China Coast Guard (CCG) tantamount to piracy. 

Both Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres, commander of the Wescom, that the CCG illegally obtained seven Colt automatic rifles from Philippine Navy (PN) troops, the soldiers' personal cellphones, as well as motor and engines of the boats, and destroyed some communication equipment and other navigational equipment onboard.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said that the government does not consider the confrontation on June 17 as an armed attack, which was stated in the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that obligates the United States to come to the Philippines’ aid.

“This was probably a misunderstanding or an accident. We’re not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack,” he said.

Marcos asked Teodoro if the government is "flip-flopping" with the characterization of what occurred. 

"It seems fairly clear from what we heard from our (Philippin) Navy and our (Philippine) Coast Guard what occured, what exactly occured and how do term it. Kasi di rin kami nakakaintindi litong-lito na ang mamamayang Pilipino sa naririnig na parang paiba-iba naman ata tayo (Because we cannot understand it, the Filipino people is already confused hearing different statements)," she said. 

The senator also asked if Bersamin was properly briefed before his press conference.

"It gave the impression that you were downplaying the incident following the meeting of the National Maritime Council," Marcos said.

When asked what the official characterization of the incident is, Teodoro replied: "The gist is ma'am it is a deliberate aggressive action by China and an illegal use of force. So it is not a misunderstanding or an accident.  And that is for the record ma'am under oath."

He added that it is the position of the executive branch of the government.

De-escalating tensions in the WPS 

During the hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo what measures they have taken to de-escalate the tensions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Manalo said that they approached the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as their embassy in the country. 

"We sternly communicated to our counterparts that it was really incomprehensible how the delivery of basic necessities to our troops on the [BRP] Sierra Madre could be considered a provocation that would justify an increased level of Chinese actions and so, therefore, we believe their actions only intensified and escalated tensions and certainly, something we should be concerned about," he said.

He added that as agreed by President Marcos and President Xi Jinping, "that we agreed our government should seek to manage our maritime differences and not let incidents define our bilateral relations". 

He mentioned that it's clear that many of these recent incidents by China are inconsistent with this declared intention.
"Nevertheless, the Department of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with National Maritime Council...we still believe it's the primacy of dialogue and diplomacy should prevail even in the face of these serious incidents," he said.
Manalo said that they will pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international laws, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 arbitral award. 

He also mentioned that they have a mechanism with China, the bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea. 

"We had a  working group meeting last week in preparation for what we hope will be a meeting of the BCM, the bilateral consultation mechanism, we hope to be held in early July with our Chinese counterparts, specifically to discuss the recent incidents," he said. 

He assured the committee and the Filipino people that while they are seeking the approach for a peaceful resolution through international law and diplomacy, they are not "blind" to the incidents that are happening.

"We will ensure that whatever confidence-building measures we achieve, they will be not at the expense of the promotion of our sovereignty, sovereign rights as well as our rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea," he added.