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VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Lorenzana contradicts military statement on China gun-pointing incident in West PH Sea

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has downplayed the Feb. 17 incident in which a Chinese warship aimed a radar gun on a Philippine navy ship within Philippine waters, contradicting an earlier statement of the military.

STATEMENT

In a virtual presser on April 28, Lorenzana, who was asked to give an update on the matter, said:

[A]ng ating pagkakaalam diyan sa laser gun [incident] ay hindi naman offensive masyado (From what we know about that laser gun incident, it’s not really that offensive).”


He said what he found a “bit offensive” was the fact that the Chinese warship pointed its radar gun, usually used in “target acquisition,” at the Philippine ship in the first place. The defense chief then said:

Pero ito ay katulad lang noong kanilang ginagawa tuwing tayo ay dadaan diyan sa West Philippine Sea within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) at tsina-challenge tayo (But this is just like what they have previously done every time we traverse the West Philippine Sea within our EEZ and they challenge us).


Lorenzana added:

[H]indi naman siguro nila gustong saktan or harm our — siguro sinusubukan lang nila kung anong magiging reaction natin (Perhaps they did not mean to harm our [ship]…perhaps they just wanted to test our reaction).”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH Episode #36 People’s Television Network, Inc. (PTV), April 28, 2020, watch from 8:41 to 10:45




FACT

The secretary’s pronouncements are not consistent with an earlier statement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WESCOM) — which has jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea — that described the Chinese warship’s actions as “hostile [in] intent.”

A portion of the statement, issued on April 23, read:

“This hostile act on the part of the Chinese government and encroachment within the Philippines’ [EEZ] is perceived as a clear violation of international law and Philippine sovereignty.”

Source: Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines official Facebook page, WESCOM clarifies the recent incident between Phil Navy and PLAN vessel within Philippine Waters, April 23, 2020




On Feb. 17, Philippine vessel BRP Conrado Yap was on its way to conduct sovereignty patrols at the Philippine-occupied Rizal (Commodore) Reef, which is within the country’s EEZ, when it detected a “radar contact of a gray colored vessel,” the WESCOM statement said. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Three things Duterte got wrong on the PH-China maritime standoff)

The crew of the Philippine ship then identified the vessel as a corvette warship of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and “visually observed” the latter’s “Gun Control Director” aimed at them. Such equipment can be used to “designate and track targets and [make] all the main guns ready to fire in under a second,” it added.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In a tweet on April 22, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed that the government had already filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing on the issue.

Reacting to Lorenzana’s April 28 statements, Locsin said he, on the other hand, “won’t tolerate anyone pointing at [him] or [his] countrymen,” adding:

“This is the last word on the subject that I already warned everybody is strictly my exclusive competence and jurisdiction under the president and nobody else in the government.”

Source: Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, “This is the last word,” April 29, 2020




President Rodrigo Duterte has so far stayed silent on the issue, but had constantly warned against going to war with China in previous speeches. In a March 2019 address, he said doing so would constitute a “massacre” of Filipino soldiers since “we don’t have the capacity to fight them.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, for his part, said in an April 23 virtual presser that the government will “continue to protect and push for our national territory and sovereign rights.”

In an April 27 online interview, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called the incident a “serious escalation by China,” given that it happened near the Malampaya natural gas facility, which supplies up to 40 percent of the entire energy requirement of Luzon.

While it is “not” an act of war, it was “definitely a hostile act…because it [was] just one step away from firing,” said Carpio, who played a crucial role in the country’s victory in its arbitration case against China on the South China Sea dispute at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague in 2016.

The PCA ruling invalidates China’s nine-dash line, which claims almost 80 percent of the entire South China Sea as Chinese territory, including maritime zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. (See PH wins: Arbitral court invalidates China’s 9-dash line)


Sources

Inquirer.net, Wescom says Chinese warship readied guns vs PH Navy ship in PH territory, April 23, 2020

ABS-CBN News, Chinese ship had ‘hostile intent’ in pointing radar gun at PH vessel: military, April 23, 2020

Rappler, Chinese warship targeted Philippine Navy vessel in West PH Sea – AFP, April 23, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Public Briefing #LagingHandaPH Episode #36 People’s Television Network, Inc. (PTV), April 28, 2020

Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines official Facebook page, WESCOM clarifies the recent incident between Phil Navy and PLAN vessel within Philippine Waters, April 23, 2020

AFP Western Command, ABOUT WESCOM, n.d.

Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, “At 5:17 pm today…,” April 22, 2020

Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, “But on the other hand…,” April 28, 2020

Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, “This is the last word,” April 29, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the distribution of Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA), March 8, 2019

President Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, April 23, 2020

Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, FOCAP Online News Forum with Ex-SC Justice Carpio, April 27, 2020

Malampaya.com, Clean energy for Luzon, n.d.

Permanent Court of Arbitration, Press Release: The South China Sea Arbitration, July 12, 2016

Permanent Court of Arbitration, Award on the South China Sea Dispute, July 12, 2016

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)