NO ONE TO BLAME BUT CHINA: Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday he understood why the Filipino public had reacted negatively about the China Coast Guard's goodwill visit to the Philippines.
"Alam mo naman, spillover 'yan ng mga ginawa nila no'ng 2016 and earlier, binully-bully tayo d'yan,” he said at the sidelines during the change of command of the Philippine Air Force. “So it’s an understandable feeling of the Filipinos.”
(You know, it's a spillover from what they had done in 2016 and for bullying us.)
Comments made online were mostly critical, condemning both the China and Philippine Coast Guard—the former for visiting while still demanding ownership of the West Philippine Sea, and the latter for rolling out the red carpet for their counterpart and adversary.
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also condemned the visit, saying it was tantamount to the Philippines condoning all the aggression that the China Coast Guard had applied on Filipino fishers and government vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
Lorenzana said there was no one else to blame for these reactions but China itself.
“According to the survey about 85 percent of Filipinos distrust the Chinese. So ‘di natin kasalanan na 'yan. Sila ang gumawa ng gano'n,” he said. “Ang akin [negative public reaction] is very normal and understandable.”
(According to the survey about 85 percent of Filipinos distrust the Chinese. It's not our fault. They're to blame.)
Lorenzana also found nothing irregular in reports that another China Coast Guard vessel was spotted making back and forth movements along Ayungin Shoal on the day the China Coast Guard ship 5204 was arriving in Manila.
Ayungin is one of the 9 island detachments maintained by the Philippine military in the West Philippine Sea, which is close to Mischief Reef—one of China’s militarized artificial islands.
“Palagi naman sila nando'n sa Ayungin eh. 'Yong atin namang mga fishermen ay nakakapag-fishing sa paligid ng Ayungin. I don't see the problem there," he said.
(They always frequent Ayungin. Our fishers are allowed to fish there. I don't see the problem there.)
Unlike in 2014, the tension in Ayungin Shoal had dissipated because of the warmer relations of both nations, he said.
"Nag-ease na nga 'yong tension sa Ayungin eh since 2016. Gumanda na ang ating relationship d'yan eh. Na-manage na natin," Lorenzana said.
(The tension in Ayungin has abated since 2016. Our relationship there [with China] has improved.)
Lorenzana sat down at the closed door meeting with the China Coast Guard led by CCG Director General, Major General Wang Zhongcai, and the Philippine Coast Guard led by Admiral Joel Garcia.
The defense chief, however, said that nothing concrete was discussed while he was there. It was more an exchange of pleasantries than a presentation of arguments.
“Nothing, nothing. Friendly visit lang talaga. Getting to know you,” said Lorenzana. “'Yon ay friendly visit para mapalapit 'yong ating Coast Guard from the 2 countries.”
(It was just a friendly visit so the Philippine Coast Guard will get to know their counterpart.)
Admiral Garcia earlier said they would talk about opening a “hotline of communication” between the 2 coast guards to avoid conflict at sea, and that the PCG would ask the CCG to stop driving fishers away.
But Lorenzana said these matters would be threshed out during the formulation of the Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea—a set of protocol that all claimants in the South China Sea should agree to adhere to.
China is pushing to finalize the Code of Conduct under the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has opted to take a friendlier stance with China.
Lorenzana said that like the Philippine Coast Guard, the China Coast Guard was merely following orders, too.
“Hindi naman siguro 'yon ang venue eh,” Lorenzana said of the goodwill visit. “Kasi alam mo 'yong mga coast guard nila, sumusunod lang din sa taas. Kaya nga importante na matapos natin 'yong Code of Conduct, para 'yan na ang ating magiging framework para ma-manage natin 'yong relationship sa EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) natin sa West Philippine Sea," he said.
(It was not the proper venue. The China Coast Guard was also following orders. That's why it's important to create a Code of Conduct, which will serve as our framework so we can manage our relationship in the EZZ in the West Philippine Sea.)
China Coast Guard’s goodwill visit end Friday, with the Philippine Coast Guard awarding customary departure honors through a passing exercise as the Chinese ship leaves the port.
The next time that both coast guards will meet again will be in the West Philippine Sea.