MANILA — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Thursday it was "time to come clean" on who ordered the pullout of Philippine vessels during a 2012 standoff with China in the West Philippine Sea.
Locsin made the statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte alleged that the Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal to China after former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario ordered the removal of Philippine ships from the area during the impasse.
"Time to come clean. Story keeps changing from [Philippine] mistake of sending navy ship to a face-off with one [Chinese] fishing boat—to 30 [Chinese] militia boats," Locsin said in a Twitter post.
"And who ordered [and] why did we pull out of the face-off? The US couldn’t have ordered us because 'surrender is not an option' in the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty)," he said.
Locsin urged former government officials to "come clean" on what happened during the standoff and who made the decision to pull out the country's vessels.
He added that the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China’s claims over the South China Sea “falls far short of restoring what we lost.”
"We’re all old on both sides of the argument about the loss of Scarborough Shoal; it is time that those ones who were in charge of protecting our territory come clean on what exactly happened when we walked—rather sailed away from a confrontation. Could anyone make them do that?" Locsin said in another tweet.
"No power could make us back down. But the country wants to know if they tried. So who decided we should? That loss of nerve left a burden impossible to carry to completely satisfy our loss of territory & honor. Even The Arbitral Award falls far short of restoring what we lost," he said.
Del Rosario had said that the US brokered a deal to end the 2012 standoff by having both China and the Philippines withdraw their ships.
"Accordingly, if my memory serves me correctly, we withdrew our one ship while China deceitfully breached our Agreement by not withdrawing their 30 or more ships," he said.
In March, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said that after his negotiations with China for three months over the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, the number of Chinese ships in the area reduced from "80-100, to just three, all of which were positioned outside the shoal."
Trillanes said he was designated by President Benigno Aquino III in May 2012 as backchannel negotiator at the height of the standoff, and "the issue of sovereignty WAS NOT COVERED and WAS NEVER DISCUSSED."
"I WAS ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH MY MISSION. Looking back, I can proudly say that this is probably THE BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT in my career as a public servant. An invasion or an armed conflict with a regional power was averted through those backchannel talks," Trillanes said on his Facebook account.
"Eventually, the refusal of China to remove the remaining 3 ships forced the hand of PNoy (Aquino) to file the arbitration case, which we eventually won," he added.
The Scarborough Shoal, located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales, is one of the region's richest fishing grounds and a flashpoint between the two countries, which have rival claims.
Manila and Beijing's spat flared again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea, has no legal basis, a UN-backed arbitration court in The Hague ruled in 2016.
The same decision declared the Scarborough Shoal as a traditional fishing ground of many nationals, including Filipinos, access to it therefore by fishermen should not be hampered.