DefSec Teodoro belies Executive Secretary Bersamin

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ON Monday, I wrote a piece whose title is its gist: “We have become a leaderless nation.” With certain recent developments, I rest my case. President Marcos can’t even set policy on an urgent issue facing the nation, our conflict with China.

His Defense Secretary, Gilberto Teodoro, has publicly defied his alter ego, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin who had announced a de-escalation in government’s rhetoric against China.

On June 17, China Coast Guard vessels had several inflatable boats block Philippine Coast Guard crafts from supplying the platoon of Marines at the BRP Sierra Madre grounded 25 years ago at Ayungin Shoal. The Chinese even got to board the Philippine boats, brandished pick axes and spears to puncture and deflate dinghies to sink them.

Are they with the same government? Bersamin’s press conference, top; Teodoro’s, below.

The Chinese claimed that the Philippine boats had intruded into Chinese territory, and were carrying materials to repair the dilapidated WWII vintage LST. This was contrary, the Chinese claimed, to the Philippine promise made in 1999 that while it can supply living necessities for the dozen Marines stationed there, it cannot bring such repair materials.

The usual China-hating officials went on overdrive to condemn the Chinese action. Teodoro vowed “to fight China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” as if the Philippines had a military force to do so. Manila’s main mouthpiece against China, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela, called the Chinese action “brutal,” and that they acted like “pirates.”

Highest-ranking

However, on June 21, Bersamin — as executive secretary, the highest-ranking official of the Marcos government — called a press conference at the Palace — so unusual for him that I cannot remember his having called one at any other time — in which he sought to downplay the incident.

He contradicted everything the two warmongers were claiming, declaring that the incident was not an armed attack, but “a misunderstanding or an accident.” He belied Teodoro and Tarriela’s claim that eight Filipino servicemen were wounded, and said only one was injured. He emphasized the Marcos government’s willingness to work with China to resolve the dispute.

Bersamin said that invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US was not in “consideration because the matter is a matter that can easily be resolved very soon by us. And if China wants to work with us, we can work with China.”

The foreign affairs department had earlier disclosed that the US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke over the phone the day after the incident with his Philippine counterpart and both reaffirmed that the treaty “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft — including those of its coast guard — anywhere in the South China Sea.”

The next day, however, and in the same room in Malacañang where Bersamin had his press conference, Teodoro had his own meeting with media and belied his immediate superior’s claim that the incident was a “misunderstanding or an accident.”

Deliberate act

“We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” he read his joint statement with the national security adviser. “We are not downplaying the incident. It was an act of aggressive and illegal use of force.”

“He said, but he said.” PHOTO FROM DANIEL LONG

The Presidential Communications Office reported: “Secretary Teodoro also clarified that the statement issued by Bersamin on Friday “was a preliminary assessment at that time.”

“But after the trip of the President to Palawan, nag-firm up na ‘yung conclusion na talagang deliberate incident ito,” he added.

Bersamin had also said in his press conference that the supply missions to the Sierra Madre would be announced before they are conducted, a clear reference to the supposed agreement made with the Chinese — as revealed in a transcript released by China of a purported conversation that the then head of the Western Command had with the Chinese military attaché — that the Philippines would inform the Chinese two days before the supply mission would be undertaken. This is to ensure that the CCG will be appropriately alerted that PCG vessels have in effect the Chinese permission, and therefore won’t be blocked.

Teodoro belied Bersamin’s claim, saying that the government “will not seek permission or consent from any country in performing its duties.”

Abroad

Teodoro apparently took advantage of the fact that Bersamin had left for abroad after his press conference on June 21 and has not been able to comment on Teodoro’s claims. Clever of Teodoro, Bersamin will be back only on Saturday.

In any other nation, the head of state will fire his defense secretary for publicly contradicting his No. 1 man.

So, what do we make of this? We can only make educated guesses.

First, it was Marcos himself who, upon reading anti-China newspapers such as the Philippine Star on the incident, felt that things were getting out of hand, that we were on the path toward violent conflict with China.

Knowing, however — from his direct sources with the American administration — that the US will not intervene and risk a clash with China, especially at this time when its presidential elections are just five months away (and that things are not going well for their Boss Biden), Marcos ordered Bersamin to tone down the warmongering rhetoric of Teodoro, Tarriela and national security adviser Eduardo Año.

Direct order

Bersamin had to get a direct order from Marcos to do this since, especially with his experience as Supreme Court justice and then chief justice, he prefers to be the hidden power in Malacañang, far from controversial issues, especially involving foreign policy.

However, Teodoro had the chance to personally talk to Marcos two days later on June 23, Sunday, during the President’s trip to the Western Command’s headquarters in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. (It wasn’t clear, though, if Marcos’ trip there was made in advance, or whether it was, as his press officials claim, undertaken to raise the morale of the command’s troops after the June 17 incident.)

It is very likely that Teodoro told Marcos that Bersamin’s move was so wrong; it had demoralized the military. To support his view, Teodoro showed Marcos a statement by the Association of Generals and Flag Officers — which I bet he himself asked the association to issue — that the CCG’s actions in Ayungin Shoal were “unprofessional, escalatory, and in violation of numerous United Nations protocols.”

So, what was our President to do? He likely told Teodoro what he often tells his officials without expounding: “Ikaw na ang bahala.” Thus, Teodoro couldn’t say in his press conference — and our media wasn’t given to ask him — that Marcos himself asked him to contradict Bersamin’s statements that toned down the June 17 Ayungin incident, and our security officials’ belligerent response to it.

However, Teodoro could only pretend that Marcos gave specific orders, by quoting his motherhood statements in his speech in Palawan, such as “we are not in the business to instigate wars.” Teodoro, of course, couldn’t wait and had his press conference the very next day, Monday, essentially belying Bersamin’s statements.

So, what do we make of it? I would say an insight into Marcos’ type of leadership, if we can even use that term.

This reminds me of a description that a Cabinet member gave me on how his boss, former president Joseph Estrada, made decisions, including those that were crucial to his administration and to the country. “It depends on what the last official he talks to says. But often he doesn’t seem to be so interested in the issue to probe that official’s recommendation. He just nods his head and tells the official: “Sige, ikaw na bahala.”


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. joey perando

    Lo and behold!
    What if Marcos Bangag, pURSE bURIKLAT,
    Gay Tariellalala, Whitey Brawler, Rice Speaker,
    Silly Jedi, and Bigo Inidoro themselves MAN UP
    THE SHIPS OF theIR sponsored USA PACIFIC PROXY WAR?!
    Would it be a great SIGHT OF madness?!

  2. joey perando

    Lo and behold!
    What if Marcos Bangag, pURSE bURIKLAT,
    Gay Tariellalala, Whitey Brawler, Rice Speaker,
    Silly Jedi, and Bigo Inidoro themselves MAN UP
    THE SHIPS OF theIR sponsored USA PACIFIC PROXY WAR?!
    Would it be a great SIGHT OF madness?!

    Lo and be awed!
    how do we wake the woke sleeping sleeper cells?
    who without US visa can STOP this
    senseless swag of the bugoy hacienderos
    what can swerve this LEADERLESS nation
    from sacrificing the poor patriots
    Where are the night nights of Rizal?!
    Where are the real Sons of 1898!?
    Where are the Daughters of Peace?!
    wHERE ARE the Grand aproned Masons!?
    wHERE ARE THE FISHERMEN of fishes?!
    wHERE ARE the great fRATERNITIES etched in
    stones and paddles?!
    wHERE ARE the grand drunken Peons of this land?!
    Where am I!?

    Lo and be still!
    Just dream of our own pieces of PEACE!
    jUST rage into the keyboard nights
    Just imagine a NICE lull into Helvegen…

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