November 14, 2023
MANILA – Sen. Francis Escudero warned on Monday that temporarily recalling Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz might do more harm than good, noting that it would still be wise for Manila to maintain warm diplomatic ties with Beijing.
“The objective is to deescalate tensions and not escalate it,” Escudero told the Inquirer.
“The recall of an ambassador is a huge step that will sour relations between our two countries. It will have a huge impact on diplomatic, trade, economic, cultural (and) people-to-people exchanges,” he pointed out.
“The promotion of a culture of dialogue and communication is always a far better alternative than conflict,” he added.
Escudero was reacting to the proposal of Sen. Francis Tolentino urging the Marcos administration to order FlorCruz to return to the country to express the government’s indignation over the latest water cannon attack by a Chinese vessel on a Philippine boat during a resupply mission to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Tolentino, vice chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, argued that recalling the country’s envoy in Beijing would show a “high level of condemnation,” but was quick to clarify that this would not mean the Philippines was severing its diplomatic relations with China.
According to Escudero, addressing such a ticklish diplomatic matter should be done “after serious and careful consideration of its consequences.”
“It should never be used as a knee-jerk or ‘normal go-to’ option in situations such as this,” Escudero said.
“The objective,” he stressed, “is to explore peaceful solutions, not break avenues of dialogue and discussion while preserving our territorial sovereignty and rights over the West Philippine Sea.”
It would also be better for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to ask FlorCruz’s advice on the issue since the former broadcast journalist-turned-diplomat was an acknowledged expert on China, the senator said.
Escudero said: “We should sail through these murky and perilous waters avoiding needless conflict without letting go of our sovereign rights.”
Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said that the Chinese Coast Guard’s use of a water cannon against one of the two supply boats during the resupply mission was “really dangerous” and could have wrecked the small boat.
“It’s really dangerous considering this is a high-pressure water” and the boat would have broken due to high pressure if it was directly hit, he said in an interview with ANC.
An aerial video from the resupply mission conducted on Friday showed China Coast Guard 5203 ship blasting a powerful stream of water toward ML Kalayaan although it was not directly struck.
“But the mere firing of that water cannon is an irresponsible act committed by the China Coast Guard. That is not acceptable, whether it hit our vessel or not. It is still not proper, it is an irresponsible act,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said at a public briefing.
The supply boat made of fiberglass is around 24 meters, much smaller than the 102-meter Chinese coast guard ship.
Tarriela said all their Japanese-built patrol ships were also equipped with water cannons but they only use them to respond to maritime incidents.
“We use that to extinguish fire and not intended to harm. It doesn’t align with our mandate to support maritime safety using water cannons,” he said.
“This kind of behavior is something that should be shared with the world. They are becoming more [of a] bully as we continue our resupply missions, that’s why we are documenting this,” he said.