Estrada’s sons refute Times columnist’s claims

(THE MANILA TIMES) IT is “impossible” for former president Joseph Estrada to commit to China the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, as alleged by The Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila last week insisted that the Philippines had repeatedly “promised” to tow away the grounded ship. But Manila has reneged on its supposed “commitment.”

In separate statements, Estrada and Ejercito defended their father from Tiglao’s accusation.

“It’s impossible he will commit to remove the same [from Ayungin Shoal]. When was defending our territorial integrity considered ignorance?” Ejercito said.

“At least President Erap (Estrada) had the courage to fight for our sovereignty. Unlike them who paved the way for NBN-ZTE, the first salvo of Chinese intrusions in our country,” he said without elaborating.

“I don’t know where he got his information,” Estrada said of Tiglao’s claim.

Asked if he had asked his father about what Tiglao had written, Jinggoy said, “He will not remember that. So, I instructed my staff to call [former] senator [Orlando] Mercado.”

He said that during his phone conversation with Mercado, who was Defense secretary during his father’s term, “he confirmed that there was no agreement or promise” whatsoever made to the Chinese government.

Tiglao’s claim was “very inconsistent, and common sense tells us it was President Joseph Estrada who ordered that BRP Sierra Madre be grounded in Ayungin Shoal [in November 1999]. So, how come he will also be the one to say ‘remove it’?” Ejercito said in a text message in Filipino.

In a press briefing, the younger Estrada dared Tiglao to name the people who promised to remove the Navy ship from Ayungin.

“If it was made verbally, it will not stand. These are all hearsay. We are also at a loss; we are in limbo [as to] who really made the promise,” the senator said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines decided in 1999 to deploy a “permanent station on Ayungin Shoal [through the Sierra Madre] in response to China’s illegal occupation of Panganiban Reef in 1995.”

The Sierra Madre, the DFA said, serves as “a permanent station for Philippine military personnel deployed to protect and secure Philippine rights and interests in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the Ayungin Shoal and its vicinity.”

Senator Estrada noted that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. already said last week he had “rescinded” that arrangement or agreement, “if there was such an agreement,” concerning the removal of the Sierra Madre from Ayungin.

“This renders the debate about a possible promise made during former president Joseph Estrada’s tenure to the Chinese government irrelevant,” he said.

“Any assertion of such a commitment contradicts the rationale behind the government’s decision at that time to station BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal. This move was primarily undertaken to assert our country’s claim and establish a presence in the area,” he said.

He said that as the chief architect of foreign policy, the President “is firmly committed to keeping the Navy ship at the shoal, which is unambiguously within the Philippines’ territorial boundaries. No other country should have the power to dictate our actions regarding this territory.”

The President’s resolve to keep the Sierra Madre in Ayungin “demonstrated his unwavering dedication to protecting the Philippines’ sovereignty over the area and our right to determine the ship’s fate,” Estrada said.