West Philippine Sea

Sacked Wescom chief Carlos denies agreement with China in wiretapped call

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Sacked Wescom chief Carlos denies agreement with China in wiretapped call

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.

Wescom

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos tells the Senate he ‘did not enter into any secret deals’ in a call with a Chinese military attaché named ‘Colonel Li’

MANILA, Philippines – Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos broke his silence on Wednesday, May 22, and denied forging an agreement with China on a “new model” to handle West Philippine Sea tensions as allegedly recorded in a wiretapped call.

“I did not forge any agreement at the level and magnitude that will bind our two countries for the long term and redefine foreign policy,” Carlos, who was recently relieved as Western Command (Wescom) chief, said in a Senate hearing.

“I did not enter into any secret deals that will compromise the interests of our country. We are on the same team. Let us be united against this false narrative,” he said.

The controversy erupted in the first week of May but Carlos immediately went on “personal leave,” thus his silence until Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

Chinese officials had claimed that Carlos agreed to this “new model” in a recorded conversation in January, an audio recording that the Philippine government later denounced as a form of wiretapping.

It was the Manila Times – a newspaper closely associated with the Duterte administration, which had allied itself with China – that published the transcript of the purported call on January 3. The call supposedly lasted for 12 minutes, according to anonymous Chinese officials who spoke to Bloomberg.

In the transcript published by the Manila Times, Carlos allegedly reached an agreement with China on how the Philippines can resupply its troops in Ayungin Shoal, where a dilapidated World War II ship was grounded in 1999 to serve as a Philippine military outpost. 

The following was the alleged agreement between Carlos and China:

  • A “1+1 proposal,” where only one Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship and one civilian vessel will conduct resupply missions – as opposed to the practice in the past year, when the PCG deployed two to three ships to escort two civilian ships contracted by the Navy
  • The Philippines will notify China about resupply missions at least two days ahead
  • The agreement is approved by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Romeo Brawner Jr., National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, and another person whose name was redacted from the transcript

Teodoro and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año had categorically denied ever approving the claimed “new model.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines had warned against “spreading unverified information that could further escalate tensions or mislead public opinion.”

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In the Senate hearing on Wednesday, Carlos admitted that he “received a phone call” from a Chinese military attaché, a senior colonel with the Chinese embassy, whom he identified as “Colonel Li.” The Filipino vice admiral said he had met Colonel Li “on several occasions in diplomatic events” as well as in “special events” by the AFP.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who was presiding over the hearing, asked Carlos about the first name of Colonel Li. “I will find out the first name,” said Carlos, prompting Estrada to question how Carlos can claim he has known Li but not his first name.

Carlos said the call lasted for three to five minutes – contrary to the Chinese officials’ earlier claim that it lasted for 12 minutes – and they did not discuss a “new model” in the West Philippine Sea. He admitted, however, that “we were exploring ways to reduce the tension.”

The sacked commander said he did not give his consent to record the conversation, and neither did he expect the phone call.

“I thought he was just going to greet me Happy New Year,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com