Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. chided China on Saturday over its “propaganda lines” accusing the Philippines and the BRP Sierra Madre, Manila’s outpost in the Ayungin Shoal, of marine damage.
“The statement of China that the grounded Sierra Madre is causing irrevocable harm is to put it as politely as possible, hypocritical,” Teodoro Jr. said in a statement.
“Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! China continues to damage the West Philippine Sea by its illegal reclamation activities in the South China Sea,” the Department of National Defense (DND) chief added.
This developed as the Philippines, the United States, and Japan will craft a “work plan” that would advance their trilateral cooperation, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday, as the three states explore ways to further promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, US State Secretary Antony Blinken, and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko convened the second trilateral ministerial meeting among the three states on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 23.
DFA Spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said the ministers “will come up with a work plan” after discussing possible activities under the trilateral cooperation.
The US State Department said the officials also agreed to “continue to call out behavior that is inconsistent with international law,” including China’s recent actions near Ayungin Shoal that interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.”
The Philippines’ economic cooperation with the United States must keep pace with steadily growing defense relations, the country’s top diplomat said.
At an event hosted by the Asia Society in New York, USA on Sept. 22, DFA chief Manalo reiterated President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr’s call to ensure that the US-Philippine partnership is relevant and responsive to the current and emerging realities in the region.
“We aim to increase two-way trade and investments, especially in critical infrastructure, as strategic and sensitive sectors,” he said in his speech.
Teodoro pointed out that the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in its 2016 ruling found China to be a “violator of international law” when its reclamation operation in the area damaged the marine environment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning on Thursday denied that Beijing is responsible for the extensive coral damage recorded in the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
She labeled the reports from the Philippine side as Manila “creating a political drama from fiction” and demanded that the country remove the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal instead.
Teodoro warned Beijing that “disingenuous propaganda lines” would imply its “insincerity and will only heighten the mistrust by the Filipino people and the rest of the world of the Chinese government.”
The DFA is still waiting for the complete assessment of relevant government agencies on the environmental damage in Rozul Reef.
The Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General will also study legal options on the coral reef destruction, including the possible filing of a complaint for damages before the PCA.
Meanwhile, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) naval vessel rescued two Filipino fishermen in the Spratly Islands, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported Friday night.
One of the fishermen was reportedly bleeding from wounds inflicted by propeller blades.
Citing the PLA Southern Theater Command Navy and the South China Sea Division of the Chinese Coast Guard, Xinhua said the Filipino fishermen approached the Chinese vessel Aba to ask for help.
The report said PLA naval medics brought the fisherman on board for treatment.