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Gibo Teodoro is violating the 2002 ASEAN DOC on SCS

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FOR nearly 25-years, the Philippines and China maintained a steady and peaceful dialogue over their South China Sea disputes.

Suddenly, beginning in February 2023, the “clashes” became almost weekly occurrences at either the Ayungin or Scarborough shoals. This was due to the U.S. and its Filipino proxies’ “assertive transparency approach” under ‘Project Miyoshu’ of the US Navy that is nothing but provocations to create the “China bully” image.

But twice, fortunately, there have been pushbacks from our officials that called for an “easing of tension” or “de-escalation” between China and the Philippines.

The first of them is what I called the ‘Admiral Carlos de-escalation.’

In the 16-months since the start of the assertive transparency approach of ‘Project Miyoshu’ of the U.S. Office of Naval Research that, unfortunately, appeared to have been fully embraced by our national security officials, we are fortunate that we still have independent-minded officials like Phil. Navy Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos and Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin.

On February 2, 2024, there occurred what everyone acknowledged as a “flawless” RORE (rotation and reprovisioning) mission for our troops marooned at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

And we should also credit Pres. Marcos Jr., for laying the groundwork towards de-escalation 3-months before the February 2 RORE mission to Ayungin Shoal, during the November 2023 APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in San Francisco, USA, where he briefly conferred with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

That brief exchange resulted to a meeting between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and DFA secretary, Enrique Manalo and the convening of the 8th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism between them.

The AFP was elated over the success of the February 2 RORE mission, which its spokesperson tagged as “flawless.”

Before the elation could die down however, ex-USAF colonel, Raymond Powell, in charge of Project Miyoshu, went to work so that by February 13, our maritime and security officials are back to promoting the aggressive assertive transparency policy.

Of course, the collateral damage from the peaceful RORE missions at Ayungin Shoal is none other than Vice Admiral Carlos, who was promptly removed from his post, some four months later.

Not surprisingly too, PCG spokesperson Comm. Jay Tarriela, one of America’s noisiest “dogs” in our government, is back to haranguing the media with escalation propaganda with the backing of Powell.

On June 17, the Chinese Coast Guard, probably well-informed, awaited the stealth delivery mission of our NAVSOG (Naval Special Operations Group) to Ayungin Shoal and confronted them armed with steel rods, axes, and knives.

Our soldiers were caught bearing firearms but that they were unable to use lest China use it as a basis for a declaration of war. China has made known it is running low on patience over our unceasing provocations and lies.

From the available videos of the incident, it was clear we intend, secretly, to repair the BRP Sierra Madre, an intention that China also clearly would not tolerate anymore that they decided to go one rung higher in the escalation ladder.

Embarrassed that our soldiers were disarmed, AFP chief, Gen. Romero Brawner claimed that our NAVSOG fought “with their fists” although nothing of the sort happened.

The result of the incident was confusion on our part, with Brawner first claiming “our boys fought with their fists” while Tarriela smoothly claimed ignorance of the mission and putting the blame squarely on the AFP and the Philippine Navy.

On June 21, ES Barsamin, looking to deescalate the situation, announced that the June 17 incident was an “accident” and “misunderstanding.”

But despite his being the third highest executive official after Pres. BBM and VP Sara, Bersamin’s effort was swept aside by DND Secretary Gibo Teodoro on June 24, declaring that the June 17 incident was an “aggressive and illegal use of force” by China. Teodoro also rejected Bersamin’s announcement that the next RORE schedule would be announced by the government, essentially telling that the RORE would continue at the time of the government’s choosing and without the need to inform China and other SCS claimants.

At this point, it is important to understand that ASEAN and China have always sought to establish protocols to ensure peaceful dialogue and coordination of activities of regional direct stakeholders in the South China Sea particularly among all the claimant states.

Hence, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) of which the Philippines and China, along with the other ASEAN states, are all signatories. Related to our discussion, of particular relevance are obligations of the parties to the accord under Article 5:

“Pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the Parties concerned undertake to intensify efforts to seek ways, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, to build trust and confidence between and among them, including:

  1. holding dialogues and exchange of views as appropriate between their defense and military officials;
  2. ensuring just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or in distress;
  3. notifying, on a voluntary basis, other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined military exercise; and
  4. exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information.”

Seen in this light, the pronouncement from Teodoro that subsequent Philippine RORE missions to Ayungin Shoal will be unannounced is a violation of the understandings in the DOC as it requires prior information to all involved parties in the joint declaration.

In the case of Adm. Carlos’ “flawless” mission, the two-days prior notice had been agreed and followed as part of the DOC protocols. Hence the peacfule result.

Teodoro’s announcement of “no prior notice” is provocative on its face and China will be expected to prepare to go up the “escalation ladder” again, even as the U.S. is signaling China that it is seeking de-escalation as reflected in a Washington Post article last June 25, titled, “U.S. and Philippines seek to de-escalate after sea skirmish with China.”

Apparently our DFA has gotten the cue and is now seeking the 9th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism meeting with China. What about Teodoro?

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