‘PHL WON’T LOSE EVEN AN INCH OF TERRITORY’: MARCOS; Joint South China Sea, West Phl Sea patrols with US, Australia readied

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

BAGUIO CITY – Facing the alumni, cadets and top military officials at the Philippine Military Academy grounds in Baguio city, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. reiterated his assurance to  Filipinos that the Philippines will not give away even an inch of its territory to any foreign power.

Marcos attended the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) alumni homecoming for the first time as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as Philippine and American officials discuss details of joint patrols with Australian counterparts in the troubled South China Sea and West Philippine where China has been aggressive during the past months, massing warships and militia vessels disguised as fishermen and shooing away Filipino fishermen and the Philippine Coast Guard even within the Philippine territory and exclusive economic zone.

In a keynote speech delivered at the PMA Grandstand in Fort del Pilar, Baguio City, Marcos said his administration would continue protecting the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty amid the “heightened” geopolitical tensions.

“The country has seen heightened geopolitical tensions that do not conform to our ideals of peace and threaten the security and stability of the country, of the region, and of the world,” he said. “This country will not lose one inch of its territory. We will continue to uphold our territorial integrity and sovereignty in accordance with our Constitution and with international law.”

“We will work with our neighbors to secure the safety and security of our people,” he added.

At the same time, Marcos, an adopted member of PMA Class of 1979, enjoined the alumni of the academy to continue protecting the security and safety of the country.

He urged them to lead a “life of service beyond self,” whether they are working in government or the private sector.

On the heels of continuing maritime tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea, American troops are reportedly battle-ready as top US military officials predict a possible war with China by 2025 if the tensions and conflict continue.

At the same time, Filipino and American troops are gearing up for their biggest ever Balikatan war drills to be joined by Australia, Japan and other observers as Filipino and US troops also continue joint trainings in the Philippines and in US.

Earlier, the Philippines approved expanding to nine bases the areas where American troops can be stationed on a rotational basis in the wake of the brewing Indo Pacific conflict.

The US Seventh Fleet, meanwhile, has been passing through international waters in the South China Sea as it secures freedom of navigation in the area as well as flights of airplanes over the vast area.

Earlier, Marcos summoned China’s ambassador to Manila and expressed his “serious concern” over Beijing’s “increasing frequency and intensity of actions” against the Philippine Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, filed a diplomatic protest after the Philippine Coast Guard reported its Chinese counterpart had directed a “military-grade laser” at one of its ships supporting a resupply mission to troops, temporarily blinding its crew on the bridge.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, a recent Manila and Mindanao visitor, has called his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., to reiterate Washington’s support and commitment to help defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia.

During Austin’s visit to Manila, Galvez and U.S. officials had said the allies agreed to carry out joint patrols.

Meanwhile, Galvez and visiting Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said hat they were looking at Australian and Philippine forces possibly carrying out their joint patrols in the busy waterway.

As countries asserting the rule of law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the South China Sea, where a bulk of Australia’s trade traverses, “we did talk today about the possibility of exploring joint patrols,” Marles said.

Australian and Philippine forces have undertaken joint patrols off the southern Philippines in the past to counter terrorist threats, Galvez said, and added, “We can do it again.”
At the PMA grounds in Baguio, Marcos told the alumni: “I am aware that some of you have continued your service in the private sector, while others have remained in government. And I hope in whatever capacity you serve, you continue to lead a life of service beyond self – an ethos we can attribute to a premier institution such as the Philippine Military Academy.”

The President  acknowledged that the PMA, since its inception in 1936, has produced “selfless individuals who have offered their lives to defend this country and preserve the democratic ideals and freedoms that we all enjoy today.”

To honor those who sacrificed their lives for the country, Marcos called on the alumni to exemplify “integrity, service before self, and professionalism,” the ideals and values they have gained from the academy.

“I am filled with gratitude, as is the nation, for your contributions to the collective effort to build our beloved Philippines. In honor of those who have sacrificed their lives to build this path for us, we will continue to develop this country and aspire for better lives for our people,” he said. “Rest assured that this government, together with the Filipino people, are with you as we march forward towards achieving a safer, more peaceful, more progressive Philippines.”

Marcos also expressed hope that his year’s awardees would be emulated for their “exemplary work” and would “ignite a desire for service” in young PMA cadets to inspire them to become “leaders of character.”

Marcos noted that while the current operating environment is “uncertain and grows increasingly complex,” his administration has been exhausting all efforts to steer the country to a “high-growth trajectory.”

He said the government would maintain good relations with the international community for the country to attain “prosperity.”

“As we continue to develop our internal resources, we must pursue a path of prosperity that contributes to goals shared with the international community,” he said.

“We have cemented our bilateral relations with our allies, with partners, with our friends. And as we work on translating these investments into material benefits for our people, we must ensure that we continue to preserve  the security and the safety of our nation,” Marcos said.

Earlier in Washington D.C., U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and security, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law.”

Washington, he said, was standing by its treaty ally Manila following the latest sea feud.

Price renewed a warning that an armed attack on Philippine military forces, public vessels or aircraft, including those of the coast guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under the 1951 treaty.

Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom also expressed alarm following the Chinese coast guard’s use of the military-grade laser against the Philippine patrol vessel that they said threatens regional peace and stability. (alfredgabot@aol.com)