Marcos Tells Philippine Military to Ease Sea Spat With China

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered the military to de-escalate South China Sea tensions, Armed Forces chief Romeo Brawner said Thursday, without compromising the nation’s maritime rights.

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The military chief didn’t elaborate on the president’s remarks during a command conference. Instead, Brawner said missions in the disputed sea will continue, and several options are being explored on how to proceed, including tapping allied nations.

“We will do the same thing as before. Nothing will change even if it was said that we will de-escalate, because we are following the law,” Brawner said.

Much of Brawner’s remarks signaled that while the Philippines is open to defusing tensions, it will be steadfast in fighting for its claims in the South China Sea, just like Beijing.

Senior Philippines and Chinese diplomats also agreed to ease hostilities in a regular bilateral meeting on Tuesday, but stood firm on their nations’ claims in the contested waters. The meeting took place weeks after the one of the most serious maritime clashes between the two countries, where a Filipino sailor lost his finger.

At the same briefing, Brawner demanded that China pay the Philippines 60 million pesos ($1 million) for damaging its boats and communications equipment during the June 17 encounter. Beijing may also be asked to cover the medical cost of making the injured sailor’s hand functional again.

China “committed illegal acts and must be held accountable,” Brawner said. The military chief had also said that China must return guns seized during the incident, where Philippine boats were punctured by Chinese forces using bladed weapons.

Asked to react to Manila’s demands, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said the Philippines carried out “an illegal resupply mission and made a provocation first.”

“It was legitimate and lawful for China to take law enforcement measures to defend its sovereignty,” she said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Brawner also raised concerns over China’s supposed efforts to spread misinformation and “influence” various sectors in the Philippines, including local government units, businesses and media. “We have to be very vigilant,” he said.

The military is verifying information from Senator Imee Marcos about Philippine areas being supposed targets of Chinese missile attacks, its chief said. He also said he’s hoping that Japan and the Philippines would be able to finalize a key deal next week on military visits.

--With assistance from Philip Glamann.

(Adds comments from Philippine military chief, Chinese official.)

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