West Philippine Sea

Philippine naval commander goes on leave as Beijing insists on ‘new model’ deal with PH

Bea Cupin

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Philippine naval commander goes on leave as Beijing insists on ‘new model’ deal with PH

COMMANDER ON LEAVE. Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos (right-most) looks on as AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr. awards one of the soldiers who was injured during a March 2024 resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

Photo by SSg Ambay/PAOAFP

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos makes the move days after China bared a supposed agreement with his command to manage West Philippine Sea tensions

MANILA, Philippines – Days after China bared a supposed agreement with the Philippine military’s Western Command (Wescom) to manage tensions at the West Philippine Sea, its commander, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, went on leave.

The military confirmed on Tuesday, May 7, that Carlos has gone on “personal leave.”

AFP spokesperson Colonel Francel Padilla however said that this had nothing to do with China’s claim that it was the Wescom which had “agreed on a new model” for the management of the situation in Ayungin Shoal early this year. Based off Palawan, Wescom has jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, including Ayungin Shoal.

Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr., commander of the Naval Education, Training and Doctrine Command, will be taking over as acting commander of Wescom.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian, in a press conference on May 6, reiterated the supposed agreement made “after multiple rounds of discussions through the diplomatic channel and AFP WESCOM.” Lin also claimed the “new model” on Ayungin had the approval of the Philippines’ Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro Jr and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año – a claim both officials have categorically denied. 

Ayungin Shoal is where the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era ship, was ran aground on purpose in 1999 after China built a military outpost in nearby Mischief Reef. It’s since been continually manned by a small team of Filipino soldiers from Wescom. 

Military circles have been abuzz with rumors that Carlos was on his way out

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China’s ‘new model’ 

China, over the past month, has been insisting that the Philippines reneged on an agreement – which they called a “new model” – to manage tensions in Ayungin Shoal, a feature that’s within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

Beijing claims Ayungin Shoal, and most of the South China Sea, as its own despite a 2016 Arbitral Ruling that deemed its claim of the vital waterway invalid. 

Rotation and resupply missions to Ayungin have turned tense and precarious in the past year, with China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia ships harassing and blocking Philippine vessels, including Navy-contracted boats. 

Carlos has joined several of these missions, including two that were met with China’s water cannons. 

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Just a ‘coincidence’ 

Padilla tried to downplay speculation that Carlos’ leave was related to Beijing’s allegations. “It’s not related. It’s just coincidental that [China’s talk of a “new model” and Carlos’ leave] happened at the same time,” she said. 

She also declined to expound on Carlos’ reasons for taking leave. “Let’s respect his inherent right… to go on leave, for whatever reasons.”

From its headquarters in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, Wescom’s area of command includes features in the Spratlys that are under Philippine control, as well as Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea. 

Carlos was appointed to the post in January 2022 by former president Rodrigo Duterte, just five months before his presidential term ended. Under Duterte, the Philippines grew close to China, with the former Davao mayor apparently making informal agreements that experts said “waived” Philippine entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. 

The military general is well-credentialed, Rappler executive editor Glenda Gloria pointed out in her weekly newsletter: he finished at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1989, then studied at China’s Naval Command College-People’s Liberation Army-Navy for his command and general staff course. 

He is also the brother of former police general Dionardo Carlos, who was police chief under Duterte. – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    He took his command and general staff course at China’s Naval Command College-People’s Liberation Army-Navy. Hence, more likely, during his stay there, he could have been already “brainwashed.”

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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.