President Rodrigo Duterte handled the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea “carefully and decisively,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said on Friday, a day after the outgoing Chief Executive also ordered the end of talks with China on oil and gas exploration in the disputed waterway.
“The China-Philippine relationship has been placed on a better platform and has now been… better than what we experienced the last six years,” Andanar said in a media forum.
“This is exhibited by his unrelenting stance on the West Philippine Sea where he again mentions that the 2016 arbitral award – a significant contribution to the body of international law particularly the 1982 UNCLOS and that it singles out no one.”
Former Ambassador Albert Del Rosario also lauded the government for pulling back from oil and gas discussions with China, even as he called on the incoming Marcos administration to look for new energy sources for the country.
In a statement, Del Rosario thanked outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., who announced on DFA’s 124th Founding Anniversary on June 23 that oil and gas discussions with China “have been terminated completely” just a week before Duterte steps down from office.
This developed as Japan and the Philippines are poised for new air defense cooperation pacts focused on space technology and surveillance in response to China’s increasing military activities in the Indo-Pacific, a senior Japan Self-Defense Forces officer said Thursday in a Kyodo News report.
“Unfortunately, seas and skies are no longer a safe place,” Shunji Izutsu, chief of staff of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, said, speaking in English, during a visit to the Philippines.
“Both nations, the Philippines and Japan, are engaging in increasing surveillance capability (and have) interest in engaging in the space situation awareness,” Izutsu said in a joint news conference with Connor Anthony Canlas, chief of the Philippine Air Force, at the Clark Air Base in the country’s north.
“Surveillance and awareness are very important for securing our national security,” Izutsu said, noting the two countries advancing defense cooperation in the face of Beijing’s militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea.
On the search for new energy sources for the country, the former the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief Del Rosario said: “We respectfully submit that the incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has a challenging task ahead: to appoint upright and patriotic officials in energy and foreign affairs.”
These officials must have “the talent and skill to find ways to secure new energy sources needed by our country, while steadfastly upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, as guaranteed by international law and our Constitution,” he added.
The end of the talks came more than three years after the Philippines and China, which President Duterte has steadfastly called a “friend,” signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development in 2018.
“In doing so, we appreciate Secretary Locsin’s words that ‘In upholding the rule of law and not of might as the way forward, we’ve held on to UNCLOS and the 2016 arbitral award. They are the twin anchors of the Philippine position on the West Philippine and South China Seas,’” Del Rosario said.
“In this regard, our respectful view is that it remains imperative for our country to find new energy sources while remaining steadfast in upholding our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, as embodied in the 2016 Hague Ruling,” the former envoy to the United States said.
“Our resources in the West Philippine Sea are immeasurable and will support us for generations,” he added.
“On the other hand, given that a major source of our country’s energy, the Malampaya gas field, will run out of gas in the next few years, we need new energy sources to support the livelihood of our countrymen.
It must be said that our country cannot afford to import most of our energy requirements from other countries,” Del Rosario noted.
Air Force chief Canlas said Tokyo-Manila relations are “getting stronger” as they expand from what was a purely economic partnership before to “military and defense.”
Both he and Izutsu also agreed technology sharing could include software used for operating air defense radars and information gathered through satellites.
The Philippines expects the delivery of the four air defense radars to begin this year, as part of the PH government’s contract with Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to modernize the country’s air defense system, according to Canlas.
The radars could help detect and mitigate the effect of a natural calamity or an attack, he said.
The ASDF and the PAF held a joint conference Thursday at the base as part of a three-day training exercise on rescue and disaster response through Friday. It was the second iteration of the bilateral exercise since the two countries signed an agreement in 2019 on deepening defense cooperation.
In 2016, Japan also agreed to transfer defense equipment and technology to the Philippines, a deal seen to accelerate following the inaugural two-plus-two meeting involving the two countries’ defense and foreign ministers this April in Tokyo.
China and the Philippines are embroiled in a territorial dispute over the South China Sea, an area believed to be rich in minerals, gas and oil deposits, and other marine resources.
Beijing, however, continues to ignore a 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that invalidated its sweeping claims over most of the sea.