THE PHILIPPINE military on Sunday dismissed rumors that retired and active soldiers have withdrawn support for President Rodrigo R. Duterte due to his inaction on Chinese incursions in the South China Sea.
AFP Chief Cirilito E. Sobejana dismissed the existence of a Viber group whose members include both active and retired senior and junior officers and who are reportedly unhappy with the President.
Mr. Sobejana said he “disavows the presence or association of officers and enlisted personnel” to such a group if it will be formed in the future.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is a professional organization committed to safeguard democracy and protect its democratic institutions,” he said in a statement posted on AFP’s twitter account.
“We will focus on our mission and continue to perform our constitutional mandates. We will veer away, as we appeal to all quarters to spare your AFP from partisan politics.”
The AFP also refuted the circulation of a message online about various foreign “warplanes” taking off and landing in Clark Airbase, dismissing it as fake.
“No such landings or taking off of aircraft from other countries are taking place. The AFP is on normal alert as opposed to the claim of that spurious sender,” the AFP chief said, adding that the malicious posts were meant to “create panic and confusion.”
The AFP said it would focus on its constitutional mandate and said all soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines are “firmly behind the chain-of-command.”
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana also denounced the rumor.
“This is fake news,” he said in a statement sent by his spokesman on Viber. “I am not, and will never be, a part of any such group — neither are the officials at the Department of National Defense, many of whom are also retired military officers.”
“We call on these destabilizers to cease from propagating malicious statements especially at a time when our people should all be coming together in the face of the challenges that we are all currently facing. You are not helping our country and people at all,” he added.
The Philippines through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) last week fired off another diplomatic protest against China after authorities spotted a swarm of Chinese vessels, including six war ships within its waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippine task force also said more than 200 Chinese ships were scattered in waters within its exclusive economic zone. About 15 vessels either manned by Chinese militia, the People’s Liberation Army Navy or the Chinese Coast Guard had also been spotted at the Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines last month and early this month filed diplomatic protests against China over the presence of fishing boats, suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militia, at a Philippine-claimed reef in the South China Sea.
Mr. Duterte sees no need to use force against the Chinese vessels occupying Whitsun Reef, his spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told an online briefing early this month.
Mr. Duterte thinks the sea dispute could be resolved through peaceful means, he said. The Philippines would continue to assert its legal victory at an international tribunal in 2016, he added.
DFA this month also summoned China’s ambassador to convey its “utmost displeasure” over the continued presence of the Chinese vessels at the reef.
Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe, is within its exclusive economic zone, Foreign Affairs acting Undersecretary Elizabeth P. Buensuceso had told Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a group of farmers joined calls for China to leave areas in the waterway within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“Our call is based on the principles of sovereignty, food security and livelihood that are critical to our agriculture and fisheries sectors,” the Agrifisheries Alliance said in a statement on Sunday.
The group said the country’s fish supply is threatened by Chinese illegal fishing, adding that about three million metric tons (MT) of fish worth P300 billion a year are being lost.
“This severely depletes our fish supply, which we need for our own food security,” the group said.
They also said China had used water cannons, ramming small boats and allowing its Coast Guard to fire on Filipino vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“The stakeholders across the different sectors of agriculture vehemently protest the illegal and threatening presence of the Chinese maritime militia in our seas. Our cherished principles of sovereignty, food security and livelihood are violated by their continued illegal stay.”
Mr. Lorenzana on April 3 urged the remaining 44 Chinese vessels to leave. He said the Chinese had no reason to stay there since the weather had improved.
The Chinese Embassy reiterated the reef is part of China’s Nansha Island, adding that the waters around the reef had been “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years.”
It also said it hopes authorities would make constructive efforts and avoid “unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”
Mr. Lorenzana last week discussed the situation in the South China Sea and regional security developments with his US counterpart, his spokesman said..
He and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III are both looking forward to war games that got canceled last year because of a coronavirus pandemic, military spokesman Arsenio R. Andolong said.
During the teleconference, Mr. Austin also reiterated the importance of the visiting forces agreement “and hopes that it would be continued.” Mr. Lorenzana committed to discuss the matter with President Rodrigo R. Duterte. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Revin Mikhael D. Ochave