Jinggoy, DFA set record straight on ‘promise’ to remove ‘Sierra Madre’ from Ayungin Shoal

(BUSINESS MIRROR) SENATOR Jinggoy Estrada on Tuesday set the record straight on China’s claim that Philippine officials in the past had “promised” to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, rebutting a columnist’s claim it was his father, the former President Joseph Estrada, who had made that promise.

Relatedly, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines has no record of any commitment to move the Navy ship out of Ayungin Shoal.

 During the briefing for the 2024 budget of the DFA, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said there is no such agreement with China to remove the vessel from the Shoal, where it has been stationed since 1999.

“We’ve already asked them on so many levels for a copy [of any agreement], but they have never given us a copy. If there is no clear indication that such an agreement exists, then we can assume that there is no such agreement that exists,” Manalo told lawmakers. 

Prompted to deliver a privileged speech at the Senate session on Tuesday, meanwhile, the younger Estrada said he rose on a matter of personal privilege to “set the record straight.”

Estrada deplored that  “such claims that a former President had promised to remove a vessel that symbolizes our presence and assertion of our rights in the West Philippine Sea is a matter that deserves thorough scrutiny and rigorous analysis.”

“This plot twist in the continuing saga on our country’s territorial claims over at West Philippine Sea came two weeks after we adopted Resolution No. 79 strongly condemning China’s continuing harassment and its persistent incursions in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

But before he addressed the allegations against his father, former President Joseph Estrada, the senator said: “I believe it is a good opportunity to discuss how our country is asserting its sovereignty and claim its territory.”

He recalled that, “The quest to claim portions of Spratlys as part of Philippine territory can be traced back to the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s time in office. He recognized the islands’ strategic and economic significance considering that some of these islands have lucrative potential oil and gas deposits.”

Moreover, he recalled that “during the 1970s to 1980s, the Marcos government gained control of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) when we took over Lawak, Pag-asa, Parola, Likas and Kota. And later on, Panatag, Panata and Rizal. Those “audacious undertakings” were continued by the Estrada administration, he said.

The “grounding tactic” using the Sierra Madre, “which has significant symbolic and strategic value for the Philippines’ territorial claims and sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, was carried out under my father’s leadership.”

The Estrada maneuvering and the fall of Camp Abubakar, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s second-largest camp – the culmination of the Estrada administration’s all-out war against the MILF – “are proof of my father’s strong resolve to assure internal and external security,” the senator said.

He cited the fact that incumbent “President Bongbong Marcos Jr., is continuing what his father started, fortifying our stand in defending and protecting the territorial integrity of the Republic .”

That is why, he stressed, the pledge to remove the vessel from Ayungin Shoal “defies logic,” because then Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado and the  Armed Forces of the Philippines had painstakingly strategized to fight what they deemed a  “creeping invasion” by China.

Within PHL’s EEZ

At the House budget hearing for DFA’s 2024 outlays, Manalo reiterated that the position of BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. 

Manalo also assured Congress that diplomatic protests have been continuously filed against China’s territorial intrusion. 

He also assured the public that DFA is committed to continuing efforts to protect the sovereign rights of the West Philippine Sea.

Manalo, meanwhile, expressed openness to the idea of Act Teachers Rep. France Castro to formally write to his Beijing counterparts to raise the agreement claimed by China.

Asked by Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel if these Chinese actions will be considered acts of war, Manalo said the Philippines will resolve the disputes in the West Philippine Sea through peaceful means and even with China.

“What we are trying to do is actually protect our sovereignty through diplomatic and peaceful means,” he said.

“We’ve entered into bilateral discussions with them and tried to resolve our disputes through peaceful means and to focus on areas where our relationship is really very positive. So I think we’re still abiding by that policy,” he said. 

Manalo also said the Philippines is open to possible joint patrols or coast guard patrols with members of Asean. 

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman suggested that host an international meeting to solidify the support of various countries for the Philippine cause in relation to the WPS issue. 

Earlier, the US, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom (UK) , Germany, and the European Union (EU) condemned  what the AFP and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) have described as the Chinese coast guard’s “dangerous and illegal use of water cannons” 5 last August against PCG vessels escorting two military-chartered “indigenous” boats en route to Ayungin Shoal.

For 2014, the DFA, meanwhile, is proposing P23.9 billion, which will be used to contribute to the protection of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and maritime security while promoting a stable security environment by strengthening international relations. ##