US, PHL WARN CHINA AFTER WPS COLLISION; Biden renews defense commitment as Manila says not looking for war

By ALFRED G. GABOT, Editor in Chief
MANILA/WASHINGTON – United States President Joe Biden has renewed US commitment to defend the Philippines in case it is attacked as the Philippines warned that he collisions between Philippine and China vessels near Ayungin Shoal on October 22 are a “serious escalation” in China’s “illegal” actions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Support from several nations also poured in for the Philippines while condemnation rained on China following the incident which prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a protest against China’s aggression. (See related stories.)

“Any attack on Filipino aircraft, vessels or armed forces will invoke our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines,” Biden told reporters.

“I want to be very clear,” he said. “The United States defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad.”

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. also warned China it has no right over the Philippine territory which extends to the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

 “This is a serious escalation of the illegal activities conducted by the Chinese government in the WPS in complete disregard of any norm or convention of international law,” stressed Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.  during a Malacanang briefing.

The collision occurred  as supply boats escorted by two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels were heading to Ayungin Shoal to deliver food and other supplies to the small navy detachment stationed on the grounded Philippine warship BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.

Teodoro said that the incident occurred within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where China has no jurisdiction, authority, and right to conduct any operations.
As President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered a probe, he vowed to support the modernization of the Armed Forces.
Teodoro said Manila has the right and obligation to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction should this happen under the Constitution.

On Oct. 22, Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels tried to prevent anew the Philippine routine resupply to BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) in Ayungin Shoal, deliberately bumping supply boat Unaiza May 2 and its escort, BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409).

The other supply boat, Unaiza May 1, completed the delivery to the troops aboard BRP Sierra Madre.
To contain China’s illegal activities in the WPS, Teodoro reiterated the need to continue building up the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for it to have a “credible defense posture” and continue coordinating with the country’s allies and partners.
Before the October 22 collision,  Colonel Medel Aguilar said the dangerous maneuvers of a Chinese vessel against a Philippine ship on October 13 was an elevation of China’s aggressive actions.
Aguilar said that the October 13 incident was the first time a Chinese vessel tried to cross the bow of a Philippine Navy ship.
The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest with China in response to maneuvers by Chinese vessels.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said that the Philippines had summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian over the incident but that he did not show up.

Ayungin Shoal is part of our exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and we have sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it,” Daza said in a press conference, echoing the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea. “Therefore, as we did in the past, we intend to clearly convey our position that we have every right, under UNCLOS, to carry out legitimate activities in our maritime zones, and that we do not accept any form of interference.”

The Philippines is not looking for any conflict or war with China but is merely protecting its maritime territories from the latter’s continued encroachment, Teodoro said.
The defense chief said protecting the country’s territory is accepted under international law and that Beijing’s expansive territorial claims on the West Philippine Sea that encroach on Manila’s other territories in the area are contrary to the “norms of international law”.
“Uulitin ko: ayaw natin ng gyera at hindi tayo nakikipag gyera. Ang ginagawa natin pinoproteksyunan natin ang atin upang mapigil ang pagkupkop at paghihimasok dito ng China na wala silang karapatan, sa anumang batas wala silang karapatan sa WPS (I will say this again: we do want a war and we are not waging a war. What we are doing is protecting our territory to stop China’s repeated incursions in our territory. They have no right here, in any law. They have no right in the WPS),” he added.

Teodoro also said that China is using misinformation to weaken the “political will and unity” of the country.

He urged all Filipinos to unite with the government in countering Beijing’s narrative.

Teodoro also said the misinformation being spread by China that the Philippines’ presence in the WPS is illegal is being taken seriously by the government.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said China’s latest act appeared to be “intentional… habitual and not an isolated incident [anymore].”

“At least based on our initial determination na mukhang intentional yung incident… So, we will definitely recommend to the DFA to call on China to respect or to rather comply with its obligations under the international law to settle disputes peacefully and to cease and desist from committing any such further acts,” Guevarra said after attending a Senate hearing.

The Philippines’ National Security Council also condemned the collision .

“Continued Chinese blocking and interference by Chinese vessels with our regular and routine rotation and resupply mission, RORE to BRP Sierra Madre may lead to disastrous results. While no lives were lost in the collisions yesterday, China’s provocative and irresponsible actions have clearly imperilled once again the safety of the Filipino crew,” said NSC spokesman Jonathan Malaya.

The Department of National Defense (DND)  thanked the governments of France, South Korea, and Japan for expressing their support to the country following China’s latest provocations when its vessels hit Filipino ships engaged in a routine rotation and resupply (RORE) mission in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“We wish to acknowledge the statements issued by the Governments of France, South Korea, and Japan supporting the Philippines in the latest incident wherein Chinese vessels, operating illegally, aggressively, and provocatively, hit Philippine ships in the WPS,” the DND said in a statement.

 Earlier, Marcos convened a special command conference with all security officials to discuss the recent collision incident in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and ordered the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to immediately conduct a maritime investigation.

“He instructed the Philippine Coast Guard to conduct an investigation, as mandated by international maritime laws, into the events that transpired during the RORE mission to Ayungin Shoal by vessels of the China Coast Guard,” the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said in a statement.

“The incident, brought about by dangerous, illegal, and reckless maneuvers by vessels of the China Coast Guard, caused damage to a Philippine vessel within our exclusive economic zone and is being taken seriously at the highest level of government,” the PCO added.

The PCG said it is looking to complete its investigation in five days.
The Philippines’ operations in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) will continue despite Chinese harassment on Filipino ships going about their lawful missions in these waters,  Teodoro  said.

“Hindi ko ma establish (na) isolated na insidente. mabuti pang ang sa Wescom (Western Command) (itanong) but on my end naman ang instructions ni President ke anong mangyari dyan tuloy-tuloy ang ating operations sa WPS (I could not establish on whether the incident is an isolated one, you better ask Wescom about that but on my end, the President’s instruction is very clear, whatever happens, operations in the WPS will continue),” he said during the “Kapihan sa Manila Bay” forum, when asked whether the dangerous maneuver of a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship against BRP Benguet (LS-507) last Oct. 13 is an escalation on the part of China.

Teodoro also dismissed China’s claim that the Philippines is illegally occupying Pag-asa Island.

“Ayoko naman matawa dahil bastos naman pero itanong mo sa kanila kung ano yung gustong sabihin, sasabihin nila siguro indisputable sovereignty ng South China Sea. Ilan ang naniniwala dun? (I don’t want to laugh as it will be rude, but you can ask them on what they want really what to say, they will probably state they have indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, how many will believe that claim?)” the DND chief said.

Referring to China’s continued encroachments, Teodoro said those who intrude on the country’s 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone are the ones who can be considered squatters and illegal occupants.

“Sila ang squatter dito, illegal occupants dito, pwede naman silang mag apply ng visa, bibigyan sila ng BID (Bureau of Immigration, formerly the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation) (they are the squatters here