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Teodoro counters China: PH not stirring up trouble in WPS

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro on Friday dismissed China's accusation that the Philippines is stirring up trouble in the West Philippine Sea with its joint patrol with the US military.

"Sino ba ang nananakop? Sino ba ang kumukubkob sa South China Sea? Sa West Philippine Sea lalo na? It is China," Teodoro said in an ambush interview.

(Who was encroaching South China Sea? Especially the West Philippine Sea? It is China.)

"The Philippines is not stirring up trouble. This is a reverse of the truth. It's an absolute falsity for China to say that and it is once again reversing the truth consistent with its narrative," he added.

Teodoro pointed out that the interest of the Philippines is to protect its rights in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), considered as the constitution of the seas.

According to Teodoro, China's claim of following international maritime laws is only in words and not in deeds. "I think their credibility is very, very low," he said.

Based on a Reuters report, the Chinese military said the Philippines has enlisted "foreign forces" to patrol the South China Sea and has been stirring up trouble.

"The Philippines enlisted forces out of the region to patrol...stirred up trouble and engaged in hype, undermining regional peace and stability," the southern theatre command of the Chinese military said.

The Chinese military was referring to the joint patrols by the Philippine and US this week.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Romeo Brawner Jr. said the Philippines-US joint maritime and air patrol in the WPS, held from November 21 to 23, was a "success" despite China's shadowing activities.

"We consider the joint maritime and air patrol between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the [United States Indo-Pacific Command] a success," Brawner said in the ambush interview.

"We feel that we have met the objectives that we have set forth before the conduct of the joint maritime and air patrols and so we are confident that we are now more able to operate with our ally, the US," he added.

On Thursday, three ships — two Filipino and one American — were sailing together at 30 nautical miles off the Malampaya gas field facility in northern Palawan when they spotted a Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel that, Brawner said, appeared to be shadowing them from a distance of 6.5 nautical miles.

At the Senate, Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros and Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa both refuted China’s statement, echoing Teodoro that it's China which has been stirring up trouble in the WPS.

"It has always been China who stirs up trouble in the West Philippine Sea, not the Philippines," Hontiveros said in a statement.

"Our country should be free to patrol our waters with whomever we choose, whenever we want. This is our right as a sovereign nation," she added.

Dela Rosa, for his part, cited the incident where China Coast Guard fired water cannon at a boat carrying supplies for Filipino troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal.

"We are not stirring trouble, ‘di ba? Sino nga ang nagi-stir ng trouble? Kung trouble ang pag-uusapan, sinong unang nagi-stir ng trouble by water cannoning our people?" he said.

(If we're talking about stirring up trouble, who did it first by using water cannon on our people?)

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año categorically rejected that the Philippines "enlisted foreign forces" to patrol South China Sea as claimed by China.

"The joint patrols conducted by the Philippines with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign nation and in accordance with the international law, the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement," Año said in a statement.

He pointed out that the joint patrols were conducted within 40 to 140 nautical miles from mainland Luzon and Palawan, which makes them well within the country's exclusive economic zone.

"China's claim that our actions are allegedly 'stirring up trouble' in the region is unfounded," he said. —KBK, GMA Integrated News