Talks ongoing for joint PHL-US patrols in West PHL Sea

CHINESE SHIPS continue to swarm the Philippines exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea despite hundreds of protests by the Department of Foreign Affairs

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s promise to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that Filipino fishermen would be allowed to catch fish in the contested West Philippine Sea after their recent meeting in Beijing may not have reached the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG).

The CCG drove away another Filipino fishing vessel from the Ayungin Shoal this week and Marcos was hardpressed to explain the most recent aggressive Chinese action against the country’s fishermen. The government was asked to take stronger action against China, and one possible move may yet force President Xi to make good on his promise.

The Philippines and the US are in serious talks to conduct joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea in the near future.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez admitted this Tuesday, Jan. 24, during an event hosted by the Makati Business Club (MBC), where US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson was guest speaker.

“I think in the next couple of months, you will see more activities as far as our defense cooperation with the US is concerned,” said Romualdez, adding that “it’s part of the program and I think we are going to have these enhanced patrols in the West Philippine Sea fairly quickly.”

The idea of joint patrols was raised by MBC board member Jose Cuisia, former Philippine ambassador to Washington and the first governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, after it took the place of the old Central Bank.

Romualdez also told local media that the joint patrols which are certain to anger China was “on the table” and was being discussed thoroughly.

He said the US and the Philippines already conduct joint military exercises “so joint patrols is also part and parcel of that agreement that we have with the US.”

For her part, Ambassador Carlson said the regular combined maritime activities between the two countries was “vitally important” to enhance the Philippines’ safety and security.

Cuisia agreed that joint patrols were necessary to offset China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, which includes large portions of the West Philippine Sea.

Regarding the frequent intrusions of Chinese fishing vessels accompanied by what appear to be military seacraft into Philippine waters, Cuisia said, “I think it is only the US who can help the Philippines counter such an aggressive stand taken by China.”

In her speech, Ambassador Carlson said, “So many fisher folks have their lives wrapped up in fishing so the United States want to do everything possible. There is an array of activities we can do. We are certainly working very closely with the Philippine Coast Guard in that regard.”

So whether it’s joint patrols or any activities, “the important thing is it is done in conjunction with our Philippine partners,” she said.

The joint US-PH military exercises were regularly held for decades as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two allies, but were suspended during the Duterte regime after the former president said he preferred that the country maintain friendlier ties with China instead of the US.

During the six-year Duterte regime, however, military officials were lukewarm to the idea, and often indicated their preference for the Philippines to remain a staunch ally of the US.