Orders DFA to file note verbale regarding rocket debris incident in SCS
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to send a note verbale to China to ask Beijing to explain its “more benign” account of an incident involving Chinese coast guard taking rocket debris from Filipino soldiers in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“Yes, I think that that’s what we need to do,” President Marcos said in an interview with reporters Tuesday.
“We’ll have to find a way to resolve this…With the way that the region—Asia-Pacific—is heating up, if someone messes up, if many mistakes occur, if misunderstanding occurs, then the flame will only get bigger,” he added.
He said National Security Adviser Secretary Clarita Carlos recommended sending China a note verbale regarding the incident.
“The report of the Philippine Navy and the report which came from China were inconsistent because the word ‘forcibly’ was used in the Philippine Navy report. And that was not the characterization in the Chinese Navy report or the report coming from China,” Mr. Marcos said.
“So we have to now ask the Chinese: why is it that their account is so different and it’s much more benign?” the President said.
The commander-in-chief said he has complete trust in the Philippine Navy and believes its account of the incident.
A senior Philippine Navy official on Monday accused the Chinese coastguard of “forcefully” seizing parts of a rocket fairing that landed in the waters of the Spratly Islands in the hotly contested South China Sea.
But Beijing insisted the handover took place after “friendly consultation.”
The South China Sea is a longstanding source of tensions between the two nations.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Marcos’s remarks came as US Vice President Kamala Harris wrapped up a visit to Palawan near the disputed sea in a show of support for the longtime US ally.
Harris said the United States “stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.”
Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines’ maritime rights — in contrast to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte who was reluctant to criticize the superpower.
In Sunday’s incident, a Chinese coast guard vessel “blocked” a Filipino rubber boat towing an “unidentified floating object,” Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos said Monday.
The Chinese coast guard vessel then deployed an inflatable boat team which “forcefully retrieved said floating object by cutting the towing line attached to the (Filipino) rubber boat,” he said.
The object was then taken to the Chinese coast guard vessel as the Filipino troops returned to their station, Carlos said.
Carlos said Tuesday the Filipino sailors “heard shots” apparently fired from an unknown location as they towed the object to the Philippine-garrisoned Thitu island.
She said the note verbale would bring up the recent meeting between Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the two leaders discussed efforts to give priority to constructive engagement and critical dialogue.
Given that these incidents happen again and again, Carlos questioned Xi’s sincerity about peacefully settling the territorial dispute between the two countries.
She said the Philippines remains open to dialogue with China but expressed hope that Beijing would also recognize the country’s desire to protect its national interest in the disputed waters.
The President said his planned visit to China in January could be an opportunity to find a way to avoid further incidents.
“We want to have a mechanism, we have to find a way to prevent this from happening again,” Mr. Marcos said.
Residents of Pag-asa island heard “thunder-like sounds” for at least four hours after authorities spotted suspected rocket debris floating near the island, a municipal officer said Tuesday.
Ariel Carlos, Kalayaan municipal information officer told ABS-CBN that several residents confirmed hearing the thunder-like sounds after the Philippine Navy spotted an unidentified floating object less than a kilometer away from shore.
Carlos said the booming sounds started at 11 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m.
Senator Imee Marcos cautioned the public against jumping to conclusions and assuming this was an act of aggression.
“We don’t want to go to war because of hasty or hysterical media reports,” she said.
Following the release of the Philippine Navy report, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines confirmed that the object was a part of a recently launched rocket by China. The embassy, however, denied using force to retrieve the part.
“Before the China Coast Guard found the said floating object some Philippine Navy personnel already retrieved and towed it,” the embassy said, adding that it was able to retrieve the rocket part after a “friendly consultation” with the Philippine side.
“The Chinese side expressed gratitude to the Philippine side. There was no so-called blocking of the course of a Philippine Navy boat and forcefully retrieving the object at the scene,” it added.