Philippines looks to expand multinational patrols in contested waters

BenarNews staff
Philippines looks to expand multinational patrols in contested waters Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. salutes as troops pass during the 88th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Dec. 21, 2023.
Aaron Favila/AP

The Philippines expects to broaden multinational patrols in contested waters next year by adding more participants, the defense chief said Thursday, despite a warning from Beijing about what it called Manila’s “repeated provocations” in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said that sea patrols for the most part would be held in 2024 with France, India and other countries that currently do not have agreements with Manila for such joint operations. 

“It is very likely (that patrols would be held) with other countries like perhaps France, India, Canada, the U.K., New Zealand,” Teodoro said, according to a transcript of a local television interview. “This is because they really see the cumulative value of working together toward a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”

Manila earlier this year launched bilateral patrols with the United States and Australia in the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for South China Sea waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Potential international involvement indicates “that nobody in the world has publicly proclaimed support for China’s appropriation of the whole of the South China Sea as its own,” Teodoro said.

“On the contrary, several countries have condemned their illegal actions based on contrived history, an attempt to change international law and bound other countries into submission into acquiescing or accepting their version of international law,” Teodoro said.

Severe difficulties 

A day earlier, Teodoro sought to debunk Beijing’s accusation that Manila was causing trouble in the sea region, saying, “Only China believes in what they are saying.” 

Also on Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo spoke by telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to discuss South China Sea issues.

“We had a frank and candid exchange and ended our call with a closer understanding of our respective positions on a number of issues,” Manalo said in a statement on Thursday. “We both noted the importance of dialogue in addressing these issues.”

A Philippine Coast Guard member looks through binoculars during a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in the South China Sea, Oct. 4, 2023. [Adrian Portugal/Reuters]

Speaking to journalists in Beijing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “It is absolutely wrong to think that there has been a major change in China’s tone on the issue.”

Wang blamed the “Philippines’ change of policy and position, refusing to honor its commitment and repeated provocations that undermine China’s legitimate and lawful rights and interests.

“We hope that the Philippines will decide rationally, follow the effective way for neighbors to get along with each other and work with China to properly handle and manage the situation at sea.”

Court ruling

In 2016, an international arbitration court ruled for the Philippines, invalidating China’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. While the ruling was praised internationally, led by the United States, China has refused to acknowledge it. 

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in 2016 just weeks before the ruling, initially refused to engage China in a diplomatic tussle, but toward the end of his term confronted China’s leader Xi Jinping about it. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in 2022, reversed Duterte’s policies, reembraced the U.S. and pledged to protect the Philippines’ South China Sea territories.

The Philippines has since carried out resupply trips to its troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, an old Navy ship purposely marooned within the South China Sea EEZ. Manila has accused the China Coast Guard of directing lasers at supply boats, shadowing them and initiating dangerous maneuvers. 

The Philippines’ military chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., was on a small resupply boat that he said was rammed and hosed by the China Coast Guard earlier this month. 

21 PH-SCS-2.jpg
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (left) lifts a saber given to him by military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. during the 88th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines, Dec. 21, 2023. [Aaron Favila/AP]

Speaking before the 88th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Thursday, Brawner underscored that the military had intensified its “maritime security operations as a response to the increasing challenges to our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We stand at the pivotal juncture where enhancing our military capabilities becomes not just an option, but a strategic imperative,” he said in his message. “Thus, the AFP will continuously strengthen the reserve force hand in hand with our regular force as we sustain our territorial defense operations.”

He said the military was establishing a “cyber command” and setting up joint special operations and counter-intelligence commands.

“We will continue to uphold our territorial integrity and sovereignty in accordance with our institution and with international law,” Brawner said, reiterating that the country “will not give up a single square inch of its territory.”

Jason Gutierrez in Manila, Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Davao City, Philippines, contributed to this report. 


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