MANILA - Senator Jinggoy Estrada on Monday dared China to name the Philippine official who allegedly promised the government will remove BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.
In a Senate press briefing, Estrada said he talked to former senator Orly Mercado, who told him there was no such agreement made between China and the Philippines during the administration of former President Joseph Estrada.
Mercado served as the defense secretary during the Estrada administration.
"This renders the debate about the possible promise made during former President Joseph Estrada’s tenure to the Chinese government irrelevant. But during my phone conversation today with former senator and former defense Secretary Orly Mercado who held the position of defense secretary during my father’s tenure - he confirmed that there was no agreement or promise whatsoever made to the Chinese government," Sen. Estrada said.
Sen. Estrada also said that with no concrete proof, China's allegations about Ayungin Shoal are mere "hearsay", unless they name the official who made the agreement with them.
"If he indeed made that promise, bakit hindi yung mga succeeding administrations after my father if that is really binding - and this is all hearsay. This is only hearsay. The Chinese government had made press releases that was made verbally - this will not stand even in court because these are all hearsay. Name names, because we’re also at a loss kung sino talaga ang nangako (on who really made the promise)," he added.
He likewise said China's statements contradict the real reason why BRP Sierra Madre is in Ayungin Shoal.
"Any assertion of such a commitment contradicts the rationale behind the government’s decision that time to station BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal. This move was primarily undertaken to assert our country’s claim and establish her presence in the area. And I confirmed that it was during the time of my father that he instructed our (Philippine) Navy or our Armed Forces of the Philippines to station BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal," Sen. Estrada said.
“President Bongbong Marcos has already spoken and declared last week that he had rescinded that arrangement or agreement if there was such an agreement concerning the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal. And as the chief architect of foreign policy - President Marcos is firmly committed to keeping the Navy Ship at the Shoal which is an ambiguously within the Philippines territorial boundaries,” Estrada added.
"No other country should have the power to dictate our actions regarding this territory. President Marcos’ firm stance not to remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal demonstrates his unwavering dedication to protecting the Philippines’ sovereignty over the area and our right to determine the ship’s fate."
When asked about who may have given former ambassador and columnist Rigoberto Tiglao the information about the supposed agreement between China and the Philippines, Sen. Estrada admitted he has no idea about it.
"I do not know where former ambassador Tiglao got that information. I do not have any idea. I think it is quite illogical for me if former president Estrada instructed our Armed Forces or our Navy to stationed BRP Sierra Madre and at the same time commit that he’s going to remove the ship anytime or committed to the Chinese government. I think that’s illogical," he said.
The Philippines earlier denied promising China that it would remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal, which Manila uses to assert its stake over the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry on Tuesday said the Philippines supposedly "made clear promises to tow away the warship illegally 'stranded' on the reef."
- report from Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News