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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Defending WPS from interlopers

Apart from joint military exercises with Australia, Japan and the United States, the Marcos administration is stepping up efforts to build a credible defense posture amid brewing tensions in the South China Sea

Early on, the Marcos Jr. administration defined our foreign policy in general terms as “friend to all, enemy to none.”

It’s a tenable position in an ideal geo-political situation where most nations adhere to the internationally accepted principles of peaceful coexistence and mutual trust and respect.

It is now clear, however, that being friend to all and enemy to none is a difficult policy to observe when you have to deal with a close-door neighbor who claims to be a friend, yet considers us, at the same time, an enemy who must be kept at arm’s length and even taught lessons on proper behavior through outright bullying and intimidation.

The Marcos administration is therefore absolutely correct in asserting our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea where we have our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as delineated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Here, we must deal with China’s dogged insistence on the fictional ‘nine-dash line’ – updated now to a ‘ten-dash line’ to include Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary – that lies at the core of its aggressive actions in the South China Sea.

China has been equally obstinate in its refusal to acknowledge the ruling of the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague recognizing our sovereignty over our EEZ, which also underpins its deployment of Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels to harass and intimidate our own Coast Guard from patrolling what is rightfully ours and keeping our fishermen from going to their traditional fishing grounds in the WPS for their livelihood.

Given China’s growing military might and what appears to be its readiness to impose its will on the Philippines at every opportunity through gunboat diplomacy in the high seas, the Marcos administration is on the right track in urging our friends and allies in the international community to assist us in asserting our sovereignty over our own EEZ.

Ample proof that the Marcos Jr. administration is determined to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea is the recent move to strengthen security cooperation with three other countries, namely Australia, Japan and the United States.

Last month, the Philippines conducted joint military exercises with Australia amid renewed tension in the WPS.

The amphibious drills held for the first time with Australia involved some 2,000 personnel – 700 from the AFP, 1,200 from the Australian Defense Forces and 150 from the US Marine Corps.

The drills, dubbed ‘Alon’ or Wave, are part of Indo-Pacific Endeavor, Australia’s flagship international engagement activity in the Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean regions, which aims to enhance security, stability and stronger partnerships.

Australia is the only other country that has a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the Philippines aside from the United States.

Alon was held to strengthen interoperability and to share tactics, techniques and procedures and best practices in the conduct of amphibious operations.

The exercise took place more than a week after the China Coast Guard blocked and used water cannons on Filipino vessels on a resupply mission in the West Philippine Sea, prompting a strong condemnation and protest from the Philippines and a number of European countries.

Aside from Australia, the Philippines has also engaged in joint military exercises with Japan to check China’s aggression.

Japan’s aircraft carrier JS Izumo and destroyer JS Samidare docked in Manila after holding the first quadrilateral joint exercises with the Philippines, US and Australia aimed at strengthening security cooperation.

The 19,500-ton JS Izumo is Japan’s largest warship since World War II and is capable of landing helicopters and carries advanced command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems.

According to Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa, the presence of the warships here is part of “our shared goal of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ and that “we, as like-minded nations, can work together and deepen our ties to safeguard the freedom of navigation at the seas and uphold a rules-based maritime order in the region.”

Meantime, the US has given assurances to the Marcos administration that it is ready if so requested to provide support for supply missions by our Navy and Coast Guard to a grounded World war II-era warship in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal that serves as an outpost of the AFP in the vital sea lane.

Apart from joint military exercises with Australia, Japan and the United States, the Marcos administration is stepping up efforts to build a credible defense posture amid brewing tensions in the South China Sea.

Among these is strengthening our naval defense capabilities.

One option is to acquire from Navantia, a state-owned Spanish company with a long history in military shipbuilding, a $1.7-billion submarine force for the Philippine Navy.

The comprehensive offer covers the delivery to the country of two of Spain’s latest submarines, extensive training of the crew and staff of our Navy, and transfer of technology in submarine operation and maintenance to support our efforts at modernizing the military to serve the primary purpose of deterrence.

Could this well be the game-changer that could turn the tide in our favor in our EEZ?


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