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Thursday, June 13, 2024

‘China manipulated recording’

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Ex-Wescom chief admits convo with embassy official, but no secret deal

The Chinese embassy in Manila was accused of manipulating an illegal recording of a phone conversation between former Western Command head Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos and a Chinese military attaché to make it appear they discussed a “new model” on how to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

Carlos, who has since been relieved as WesCom head after he extended his personal leave, told senators on Wednesday he had talked to a certain “Colonel Li,” but denied entering into secret deals that would compromise national interests.

“I condemn the act of the Chinese embassy to record the conversation without my consent, much more to divulge it to the public with malicious twist and manipulation in order to appear that our discussion supported the corrosive narrative of PRC (China),” he said during the first hearing of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security on the wiretapping issue.

“The terms ‘common understanding’ and ‘new model’ were not part of our conversation,” he added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, for his part, vowed to file appropriate remedial measures stemming from what he noted was the “apparent manipulation of a wiretapped phone conversation.”

“This wiretapping incident is worrisome and we should act on this,” he said.

“What is more disconcerting is that these Chinese officials can manipulate us — they can manipulate a conversation to sow discord and make use suspect a bemedalled officer like Vice Admiral Carlos who has been serving the country faithfully,” Estrada added.

Chinese embassy officials claimed the phone conversation — where Carlos allegedly agreed to China’s proposal of a “new model” — lasted for about 12 minutes.

In the transcript of the supposed phone conversation published by a newspaper (not Manila Standard), the proposed model stipulates that the Philippines would use fewer vessels in resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal, and that Manila would notify Beijing about the missions in advance.

Carlos, however, clarified, the call only lasted for three to five minutes.

“I did not initiate the call. We talked about how to reduce the tension in the West Philippine Sea, particularly during our rotation and resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal,” Carlos said.

“I did not forge any agreement at the level and magnitude that would bind our two countries for the long term and redefine foreign policy. I am only the commander of the Western Command and not even of the entire West Philippine Sea… I did not enter into any secret deals that will compromise the interest of our country.”

The former WesCom chief explained the conversation stemmed from his concerns following the December 2023 water cannon attacks of China against Philippine vessels conducting resupply missions in the area.

“Let us be united against this false narrative,” said Carlos, who stressed he did not give his consent to record the phone conversation.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Chief of State Counsel Dennis Arvin Chan said they are still deliberating whether a case of wiretapping can be established against the concerned Chinese embassy officials since it is the first time they heard of Carlos’ testimony.

“Because we are in the middle of the fight for the West Philippine Sea, anything that comes from them (China), we treat them very carefully… We did not accept right away that the transcript was authentic… that there was wiretapping,” Chan said.

Both the DOJ and the Department of Foreign Affairs raised doubts on the authenticity of the transcripts and audio recordings of the alleged conversation.

“But (since) we have a testimony now that we can use that indeed there was a call and it was recorded, so it could be considered as a violation of the wiretapping law,” Chan said.

Carlos revealed to the Senate committee that the Chinese official had reached out to him two days ago.

“He sent me a message two days ago but I did not acknowledge,” he said.

“Was he guilty that the phone conversation was leaked?” Estrada asked Carlos.

“That is a reasonable assumption,” the vice admiral said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila has not issued a statement in response to Carlos’ testimony.

Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian likewise did not attend the Senate hearing.

In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisted that “the timeline is clear and clear, the facts are certain, the evidence is conclusive, and no one can deny it.”

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