Armed Forces of the Philippines

Carlos out as Wescom chief, AFP says it’s an ‘administrative decision’

Bea Cupin

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Carlos out as Wescom chief, AFP says it’s an ‘administrative decision’

STILL ON PERSONAL LEAVE. File photo shows Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos (right).

The controversial Navy officer is on 'personal leave' amid China's claim of phone recording of him agreeing to their terms in Ayungin Shoal. Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. has been designated as the new Wescom commander.

MANILA, Philippines – Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, the Navy general in the middle of controversy over an alleged recorded phone call with China, has been relieved as commander of the crucial Western Command.

His removal and the permanent designation of what was initially a temporary replacement was first confirmed by Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro, speaking before Naval forces and the media in Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, May 16. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), responding to inquiries from Rappler, confirmed the designation of Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. as commander of Wescom, which operates from Puerto Princesa in Palawan. 

“The designation of Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. as Commander of WESCOM is an administrative decision of the AFP,” said Colonel Xerxes Trinidad, chief of the AFP’s Public Affairs Office, on Saturday, May 18, responding to Rappler’s inquiries. 

“It is part of the ongoing changes in leadership and key positions within the military which is necessary for the institution to adapt to evolving security environment and effectively address emerging challenges,” he added. 

Torres stepped in, initially as acting chief of the crucial post in early May, after Carlos asked and was granted “personal leave” by the AFP. His leave came the same week that China, including its embassy in Manila, claimed they had a recording of a supposed phone conversation between Carlos and a Chinese diplomat. China has not acted on its threat of releasing the supposed recording to the public.

Carlos is still on personal leave, the AFP confirmed. 

The phone call, according to China, is supposed proof that Carlos agreed to a “new mode” in managing tensions in Ayungin Shoal, where Philippine resupply missions to the rusting BRP Sierra Madre are met with aggressive actions from the China Coast Guard and its maritime militia. Carlos, commander of Wescom since January 2022, has joined at least two Philippine missions that were met with China’s strong water cannons. 

China insists that the Philippines, in a supposed deal with Wescom, agreed to Beijing’s terms in resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal. Top government officials – Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro Jr., National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, and AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr. – have denied knowing of and agreeing to the supposed agreement.

The supposed phone recording is the subject of an upcoming Senate probe over concerns that Chinese diplomats wiretapped the military general, should the recording be proven to be legitimate. 

Wiretapping without the consent of all parties involved is illegal in the Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier said it would probe reports of “illegal and unlawful” activities of diplomats in the Philippines. 

Wescom is a critical post, especially as Manila becomes more assertive in upholding its sovereign rights over and claims in the West Philippine Sea. Resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal and other occupied features are under the Wescom’s jurisdiction. 

“WESCOM’s critical role requires a full-time leader that has more years in service in order to provide continuity and strategic direction. We offer our full support to Rear Admiral Torres and we are confident in his ability to lead with distinction,” added Trinidad. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.