MARCOS FIRM: PROTECT PHL INTERESTS IN S. CHINA SEA: Japan, Australia set to join US, Philippines in patrols

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

CEBU CITY — Visiting Cebu again, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  ordered  government troops to continue protecting the Philippines’ interests in the South China Sea as tensions continue to intensify in the strategic waters where trillions of dollars of goods passes through.

The Philippines needs the commitment and service of its Armed Forces now that the country is confronted by a “more complex foreign situation,” Marcos admitted to the Philippine Air Force troops in Cebu.

“I’m saying that your mission in the AFP has changed,” Marcos said.

“For many, many years, we were able to maintain that peace and maintain that understanding with all of our neighbors. Now things have begun to change and we must adjust accordingly,” he stressed.

Marcos said that the country’s boundaries were being put into question, adding “there are many things that are happening so the air force has a very big mission to fully secure the Philippines.”

He also cited “the intensification of the competition between the superpowers.”

Last week at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, Marcos said in the presence of top military and defense officials the Philippine will not give up an inch of its territory in the West Philippine Sea.

This developed as the Philippines started talks to include Australia and Japan in planned joint South China Sea patrols with the United States, as the countries showed concern over China’s activities in the strategic waters as well as at the West Philippine Sea.

The President also boosted the capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard in conducting patrols in West Philippine Sea by approving hiring of more personnel and purchase of more vessels and equipment.

“Meetings have already been set and probably we may have the Japanese and the Australians join in,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez was quoted by Reuters in its report as saying.

“They would like to join in for joint patrols to make sure that there’s the code of conduct and there’s freedom of navigation,” adding it was still “an idea under discussion,” Romualdez said in the report.

If the plan materializes, this will be the first time the Philippines has joined multilateral maritime patrols in the South China Sea, a move that would likely anger Beijing, which claims most of the sea as its territory.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) lauded President  Marcos . for augmenting its personnel immediately after assuming office, which greatly boosted its capability amid increased geopolitical tension.

“In the first year of the presidency of President Bongbong Marcos, he added an additional 4,000 that’s why we now have 26,000. Before the year ends this year, we’re also expected to have an additional 4,000 which will make the Philippine Coast Guard 30,000 strong,” PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said.

The PCG, meanwhile, stressed that the Ayungin Shoal is part of Philippine territory and must be protected always.

Tarriela  shed light on the laser-pointing incident by the Chinese coast guard and its dangerous maneuvers toward PCG vessels patrolling the West Philippine Sea.

The support extended by the President to the PCG significantly enhanced its capability and complemented the initiatives carried out by previous administrations aimed at building its capacity and personnel, the PCG official added.

In his speech during the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Alumni Homecoming 2023 in Baguio City last week, President Marcos said the country will not cede an inch of its territory amid the current geopolitical tension, promising to work with the nation’s allies to ensure the safety of Filipinos.

Aside from hiring more personnel, Tarriela raised the need for the Philippine Coast Guard Modernization Law to enable the PCG to program its asset acquisition such as offshore patrol vessels, additional aircraft, as well as enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness capability like building more radars, IAS and lighthouses in different coastal areas of the country.

The PCG also needs a coast guard response base, as well as berthing spaces for its vessels, Tarriela said, noting that right now, PCG vessels are dependent on the Philippine Port Authority’s berthing area.

With its current P23-billion budget, Tarriela said the PCG is more than willing to accept the increase in funds.

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