By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is working to convene a dialogue with China in the hopes of creating some “confidence-building measures” after the June 17 incident involving the Chinese Coast Guard disrupting a Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal that severely injured one Filipino soldier.

In a Senate hearing Tuesday, DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo said the agency, in consultation with the National Maritime Council, agreed on the “primacy of dialogue and diplomacy” even in the face of these serious incidents.

“Though, of course, I admit it’s also a challenge. Nevertheless, we 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 said.

“We have been working hard to bring back China to the table to talk with us to resolve differences on these issues,” he added.

The Philippines and China have an existing mechanism for dialogue on issues surrounding the South China Sea called the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM).

Last week, Manalo said a working group discussion was convened in preparation for what is being slated as the 9th BCM meeting.

The DFA is hoping to convene the meeting by early July, Manalo said.

The regular meeting, should it proceed, would most likely cover the June 17 incident but Manalo also hopes to see whether the two states can arrive “at some kind of confidence-building measures”.

Manalo said these “confidence-building measures” could hopefully create a basis for “more serious discussions” to see how the two states can address issues in the area.

On top of bilaterally engaging with China, Manalo said the Philippines is working closely with other international partners and on the multilateral front to promote a rules-based order in the region.

“So, we will continue to pursue these efforts, and also let me just assure the committee and the Filipino people that while we are seeking the approach for a peaceful resolution through international law and diplomacy, of course, we are not blind to the incidents which are happening,” he said.

“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 said.

On top of denouncing China’s actions in a public statement, Manalo confirmed that the DFA has reached out to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and its embassy in the Philippines to “sternly communicate” Manila’s position on the incident.

“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.

Support for WPS stance

The Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) also rallied behind President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s firm assertion of Manila’s “sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction” in the WPS, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“We stand in solidarity with the Department of National Defense, under the capable leadership of Sec. Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. in their crucial role of securing our country’s domains and fostering a safe and stable environment conducive to national prosperity and the well-being of the Filipino people,” VFP president and chief executive officer retired Maj. Gen. Romeo Alamillo said in a statement Tuesday.

Alamillo said their “hearts beat as one” with Filipino military personnel, especially soldiers stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as Manila’s outpost in the Ayungin Shoal.

The group also condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s “barbaric, demeaning and provocative acts” against Philippine troops during the June 17 rotation and resupply mission in the area.

“Their wisdom and sense of reason prevailed despite suffering from harassment and harm, embodying the indomitable Filipino valor and resilience,” he added.

Alamillio, meanwhile, urged all Filipinos to unite in support of those “who risk their lives to defend what is right, to protect is what ours and to secure our future.”

Chinese ships in WPS slightly up

On Tuesday, the Philippine Navy (PN) reported that a total of 129 various Chinese vessels were spotted in various features in the WPS from June 18 to 24.

This is slightly higher than the 121 vessels reported from June 11 to 17, the PN said in an advisory.

These include 14 China Coast Guard Vessels (CCGVs), five People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships, and 110 Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels (CMMVs).

These ships were spotted in the following features:

–Bajo de Masinloc – five CCGVs, one PLAN ship, and 15 CMMVs

–Ayungin Shoal – six CCGVs, four PLAN ships, and 34 CMMVs

–Pag-asa Island – three CCGVs and 34 CMMVs

–Lawak Island: one CMMV

–Panata Island: one CMMV

–Recto Bank: 25 CMMVs (with Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)