The Philippine military said Tuesday the country's security forces were not intimidated by Chinese incursions at the West Philippine Sea, adding they were ready for the challenges from the giant country.
Armed Forces chief General Cirilito Sobejana told Super Radyo dzBB: “We are not intimidated by the challenges posed by Chinese vessels.
They are challenging the Philippine Navy and we will not back down, we will continue resupplying our vessels. We will show them that the West Philippine Sea is ours.”
Sobejana also reiterated that maritime patrols of Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources at the West Philippine Sea and Kalayaan Island Group would increase confidence of Filipino fisherfolk in conducting activities at the disputed waters.
Sobejana said: “We are patrolling the West Philippine Sea, the country's territory. We are patrolling where our fishermen are going as well as where the China ships are staying to make sure that our countrymen will not be threatened or intimidated.
“Our presence gives protection to our fishermen and they gain confidence whenever they see vessels of Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and BFAR..”
The AFP chief said they were mulling to transform Pag-asa Island, part of Spratly Islands, into a logistics hub where Philippine military's boats could refuel and resupply.
He added: “If we transform it into a logistics hub, our boats will not go further and our sovereignty patrol in the West Philippine Sea will continue.”
Last weekend, Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana dismissed China's order to stop the Philippines from conducting maritime drills.
"While we acknowledge that China’s military capability is more advanced than ours, this does not deter us from defending our national interest, and our dignity as a people, with all that we have," Lorenzana said.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also dished out a strong remark against China, asking the Asian nation's ships to leave the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Meanwhile, Australian ambassador Steven Robinson said strengthening partnership in civil maritime security would be a key element to commemorate the 75th diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Australia on May 22.
In a press briefing Monday, Robinson said Australia was expanding its engagement on maritime cooperation with the Philippines focusing on governance, systems, processes, interagency coordination, marine natural resources management, environment protection, technical assistance, research, and workshops.
He said there will be cooperation in areas of aviation and border protection.
“Australia supports the adherence to international law particularly (the) United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and other norms and laws that governs our international waterways,” he added.
With the ongoing situation in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, the envoy said “all countries should subscribe to the rules, the norms, and the laws that govern the free passage through international waters”.
Robinson said the situation should not affect trade activities within the disputed waters.
“And so, therefore, we are concerned if there is any action taken by any country that seeks to inhibit that free passage and the freedom of navigation, the freedom of overflying. And if we see anything that is unfortunate… then Australia will express its views which we have done in the past and we will continue to do so,” he said.
In the same briefing, Australian shipbuilder Austal announced it was looking forward to bagging the contract to provide large patrol vessels for the Philippine Navy.
“We have growing aspirations to increase the level of technology transfer, and we see further projects over the next few months, which we hope we’ll be in a position to provide some updates now. I’m specifically referring to the offshore patrol vessels program for the Philippine Navy,” Austal regional director Dave Shiner said.
Since 2012, Austal has been operating a design and shipbuilding facility in Balamban, Cebu.
To date, it has produced 19 vessels to 11 operators in 10 countries. Its local workforce also expanded to 900 employees from just around 50 staff when it started its operation in the Philippines.
“The geographic location of the Philippines plays an incredibly important part in all of that. We see that being centered to that growth moving forward,” Shiner said.
He added Austal is also committed to the development of the country’s sovereign shipbuilding, designing, and building capabilities.
“We are actively looking at in-service support teams and tools to enable the ongoing support, repairing, and maintenance to all the Philippines agencies, be it Navy or Coast Guard,” he said.
The Australian Embassy here and Austal are also looking forward to finalizing negotiations in taking over the Hanjin facility in the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
“I’m hopeful that there will be some progress made in the next month or two that we’ll see a finalization of all those negotiations,” Robinson said.
He said bagging the Hanjin facility deal will push further expansion for Austal in the Philippines.
“You heard today about Austal’s commitment to the Philippines, where Austal really wants to invest further and become a shipbuilder of choice for the Philippines and the region. And that Hanjin facility, if that comes to the fore, will be a marvelous way to enable that,” he added.
In related developments, Japan has begun providing the Philippine military with lifesaving equipment adopted by the Self-Defense Forces, defense and foreign ministry officials have said, making it the first time that Tokyo has offered SDF equipment to a foreign armed force using its official development assistance.
The supply of the equipment, also available for civilian use, is intended to strengthen defense ties with the Philippines as the two countries are faced with China's assertive claims in the East and South China seas.
The aid was made possible following Japan's policy shift in its 2015 foreign aid charter that enabled the government to use ODA to support foreign armed forces in noncombat areas such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities.
Closer defense ties between Tokyo and Manila came on top of a $100 million agreement in August last year that allows Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to export an air radar system to the Philippines armed forces.
The latest deal involves ODA totaling 120 million yen ($1.1 million) for the delivery of disaster-relief tools including jackhammers, sonars, and engine cutters among others, according to the Defense Ministry.
After the delivery is completed, Ground Self-Defense Force personnel will be sent to train units of the Philippine forces in their use, the ministry said.