West Philippine Sea

China ups ante, says it has audio recording of ‘new deal’ arrangement with PH Wescom chief 

Bea Cupin

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

China ups ante, says it has audio recording of ‘new deal’ arrangement with PH Wescom chief 

EX-WESCOM CHIEF. Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, then-commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, hosts the Philippine Navy for its first Command Conference in 2024 on February 22, 2024.


(1st UPDATE) Chinese officials tell Bloomberg about possibly releasing the audio recording – while they provide a local newspaper a supposed transcript

MANILA, Philippines – The word war between the Philippines and China intensified on Tuesday, May 7, with Chinese officials telling Bloomberg News that it “may soon” release what it’s claiming to be a phone call with a Filipino general about a supposed agreement to ease tensions in Ayungin Shoal. 

China ups ante, says it has audio recording of ‘new deal’ arrangement with PH Wescom chief 

Bloomberg, citing a Chinese official on background, said a transcript of the supposed recording of a phone call with Western Command (Wescom) Commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos “may be released to the public within days.” Still citing Chinese officials, Bloomberg said the transcript covers two minutes of a 12-minute phone call. 

Carlos has gone on leave.

A copy of the transcript, as well as the recording itself, was later shared with The Manila Times also on Tuesday. The Times, in its report, said it could not confirm if Carlos was on the other side of the phone call with what the transcript referred to as a “Chinese diplomat.” 

In the Times-published transcript of the purported January 3 call, Carlos allegedly agreed to and claimed the following: 

  • A “1+1” proposal, meaning only one Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship and one civilian vessel would be involved in the resupply mission. In the past year, the PCG deployed at least two – and even three – of its ships to escort two Navy-contracted civilian ships to bring supplies to Ayungin Shoal. 
  • The Philippines will notify China at least two days ahead of a resupply mission to the Sierra Madre.
  • The agreement has the approval of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Romeo Brawner Jr., Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, and another name which the transcript redacted. 

Philippine media have made requests to the Chinese embassy in Manila for the official release of the purported transcript or the recording itself.

Spokespersons for the AFP and Navy downplayed China’s latest claim. In a message to Rappler, AFP spokesperson Colonel Francel Padilla said: “We do not comment on unsubstantiated, unverified and questionable sources.”

The Navy’s spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, called China’s newest claim as “zombie stories.” 

“The best approach is to put these stories where they rightfully belong – in the grave, never to be heard again,” he said. 

Carlos, who has commanded the Palawan-based Western Command since January 2022, is currently on “personal leave.” A two-star general has been assigned acting commander of the crucial post while Carlos is out. 

Chain of command

Typically, chiefs of the different commands of the AFP have a degree of autonomy in making operational, tactical, and even strategic decisions concerning their area of operations. 

But things are different when it comes to the West Philippine Sea, which is under Wescom.

Voyages to contested or disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea – the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal, Pagasa Island, or even Panatag Shoal which is under the Northern Luzon Command – must be first approved by the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which is headed by Año in his capacity as the National Security Adviser.

To be able to attempt a sail close to Ayungin Shoal back in December 2023, for instance, the civic coalition Atin Ito! first needed the clearance of the task force. The group waited for the same approval for a planned mission to Panatag Shoal off the coast of Zambales. 

Even in operations directly concerning Wescom, it’s the NTF-WPS – and Año, especially – who has the final say. 

Año emphasized as much in his May 5 statement: “Neither I nor any other principals or officials from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea have consented nor committed to any proposal that will compromise the National Interest from agents of a foreign power actively engaged in oppressing us in our territories and waters.” 

When the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) first brought embedded journalists aboard PCG vessels during an April 2023 resupply mission to Ayungin, for instance, Wescom was taken by surprise. Sources privy to that mission said Carlos called up Año himself to understand what was going on. Embedding journalists aboard PCG vessels would later become the norm for government missions to Ayungin Shoal and elsewhere in the West Philippine Sea as part of the government’s “transparency initiative.”

All about Sierra Madre

At the center of this tiff is the BRP Sierra Madre. The World War II-era ship, purposefully run aground in 1999 in Ayungin Shoal, is a flashpoint for tensions between the two countries. 

Ayungin, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, is a feature located just over 120 nautical miles off the coast of mainland Palawan, where Wescom is based. China claims Ayungin and most of the South China Sea as its own and has, particularly in the previous year, harassed and blocked rotation and resupply missions to bring a fresh batch of soldiers and supplies from Wescom to the makeshift military outpost. 

Carlos, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1989, has joined several of these missions himself – most recently, an early March 2024 mission that was met by the China’s Coast Guard’s strong water cannons. 

Sought for comment on Beijing’s latest threat, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, reiterated that a May 5 statement would be their last on China’s “new model” claims. 

In that statement, Año said China’s insistence on a “new model” was “absolutely absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous” Teodoro has also categorically denied agreeing to a bilateral deal on Ayungin Shoal. Carlos has yet to speak publicly on the matter. 

Must Read

Philippines: We’ve never agreed to China’s Ayungin proposals 

Philippines: We’ve never agreed to China’s Ayungin proposals 
Who is authorized?

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a May 7 statement that only the Philippine president, in this case President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., can “approve or authorize” agreements concerning the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. 

The DFA added that no Cabinet-level official in the Marcos administration has agreed to “any Chinese proposal pertaining to the Ayungin Shoal.”

How has China’s Ayungin claims evolved?

Beijing, first through its embassy in Manila and then through its foreign and defense ministry, had insisted that in early 2024, the Philippines and China agreed on a “new model” for dealing with tensions in Ayungin.

The term was first used in an April 12, 2024 statement from the Chinese embassy in Manila, in which they claimed that the “new model” was agreed on by “the Chinese side and the Philippine side.” 

Proof of this new model, China claimed, was a February 2024 resupply that was “flawless.” The Philippines did not publicize much about that mission and did not bring along journalists to witness it. 

It was the first resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre after Manila and Beijing met in Shanghai for the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea. There, the two sides agreed to improve communications between diplomats and even its coast guards. 

Days later, on April 18, the Chinese embassy said the “new model” was “also agreed upon by both sides early this year after rounds of serious communications with the Philippine military.” Questions from journalists, including Rappler, on whom China communicated with went unanswered by the Chinese embassy in Manila. 

It was on May 4, through a statement, that the Chinese embassy named Wescom as the unit that purportedly agreed on the “new model.” In the same statement, the Chinese embassy claimed Wescom “made repeated confirmation” that Teodoro and Año “approved” the “new model.” 

On Monday, May 6, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing made the same claim about the supposed “new model.” 

Before the purported “new model” was first presented by China, Beijing had long bemoaned the Philippines’ supposed reneging of agreements in the West Philippine Sea. The embassy, for instance, has made public supposed deals made under former president Rodrigo Duterte to manage tensions in those waters. 

Under former president Rodrigo Duterte, for instance, Manila apparently had a “gentleman’s agreement” that meant it could not bring construction and repair materials to Ayungin Shoal. Doing so would have left the rusting BRP Sierra Madre fall victim even faster to the wear and tear of life out in the open sea. 

Marcos has instructed the military to make sure the outpost is manned and provided for at all times. – Rappler.com 


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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.