JOINT PHL-U.S. SEA PATROLS EYED AS CHINA TENSION SIMMERS; OFWs in Taiwan told to be alert, remain vigilant

By ALFRED G. GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – As China started new military drills with planes, helicopters, warships and missiles, following the visit of another United States Congress delegation in Taiwan after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Philippines declared it is ready to conduct joint patrols with the United States in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The US Navy Pacific Fleet already has been patrolling regularly international waters in South China Sea ensuring the safe passage of cargo ships and other vessels. Sometimes, other countries like Australia join the US patrol in the region.
The commander of the Japan-based fleet, known as the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, said China’s decision to fire missiles around Taiwan has to be contested, otherwise that will be come the norm.

Meanwhile, western media reported that business leaders from many countries, including Europe, have started drawing contingency plans in the wake of what is perceived as potential China-US conflict that could make Taiwan as the next Ukraine.

This as British Minister for Asia and the Middle East Amanda Milling was reported by Taiwan News to have urged China to find a peaceful solution to Taiwan Strait tensions.

“We do not support any unilateral attempts to change the status quo, and we call on China to resolve cross-Strait differences by peaceful means,” said Milling while visiting New Zealand.

She said that the Group of Seven (G7), of which the U.K. is a member, is worried about China’s live-fire exercises and economic coercion on Taiwan. “These risk unnecessary escalation,” Milling said..

According to Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Arsenio Andolong, joint patrols with the US can be “explored,” especially if the arrangement will be beneficial to the Philippines.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said that joint patrols between the Philippines and the US in the West Philippine Sea can be explored, in the face of continuing aggressive actions by China in the waterway.

Manalo was reported to have said that the patrols “can take place under the ambit of the Mutual Defense Treaty.” The treaty, signed in 1951,  calls for the Philippines and the US to defend each other from aggression

Manalo made the statement after the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Manila where he called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Malacanang. During the call, the two discussed security matters in the region.

Blinken  assured Marcos during their meeting that the United States continues to honor its commitment to sustaining defense and security cooperation.

“We are committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” said Blinken, the highest US official to visit the  Philippines since the Marcos inauguration.
In his meeting with Blinken, President Marcos said the Philippines would continue to “evolve” its friendship with the United States amid global challenges.

“I hope that we will continue to evolve with that relationship in the face of all the changes that we have been seeing and the changes in our bilateral relations with the United States,” Marcos told  Blinken in the meeting in Malacañan Palace.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance that the Philippines holds in its relationship with the United States. It is at every level. It’s not personal level, it’s at a familial level — people who have folks in the United States, who have been working there, second, third generation Filipinos who have been there. From that very, very grassroots level,” Marcos said.

For his part, Blinken said the relationship between the two countries is founded on friendship as he hailed the strong alliance between Manila and Washington.

“Our relationship is quite extraordinary because it is really founded in friendship, it’s forged as well in partnership, and it’s strengthened by the fact that it’s an alliance as well,” Blinken said.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said during his first command conference that the military was more than willing to carry out its mandate to protect the country’s sovereignty.

In his State of the Nation Address, President Marcos vowed not to surrender even one square inch of the nation’s territory to any foreign power.

Amid the unprecedented military drills of China,Secretary Susan Ople of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW)  urged overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taiwan to maintain their vigilance over the tension there.

 Ople said it would be better if OFWs remained vigilant.

“We have instructed our three labor attaches in Taiwan to remain vigilant and visible to OFW communities, employers and other stakeholders,” Ople said.

So far, she said OFWs in the area in between China and Taiwan are safe.

In the Senate, Senator Rafael Tulfo called on the government to craft contingency plans for the OFWs amid the rising tension between Beijing and Taipei.

Tulfo, who heads the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, noted that there are at least 200,000 OFWs working in Taiwan who could be affected in case of a conflict.

“The tension between China and Taiwan is not something to be taken lightly. This is the perfect time for government agencies to show their united force by working together for the safety and security of our workers abroad,” Tulfo said.