Manila Standard : BBM eyes ‘balanced’ sea tack

18 June 2022

By Rey E. Requejo | Manila Standard

Aussie envoy: Marcos to take ‘very measured’ stance with China on SCS
President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will take a “very measured and balanced” approach to the country’s territorial disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea.

Marcos made this commitment during a meeting with Australian Ambassador James Robinson, one of five diplomats that he met Friday.

After his courtesy call, Robinson said he assured Marcos that Australia would continue to support the Philippines’ victory in the arbitral case against China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.

“I think the President-elect is going to take a very measured and balanced approach in terms of how he approaches all of these issues to seek the best outcome he can for the Philippines. And I think any pragmatic politician would do exactly the same—to try and work out how do you get the best for your country in difficult circumstances. And that’s what I’m anticipating from the President[-elect],” he said.

Robinson said he also relayed Australia’s commitment to support the Philippines “as it goes forward dealing with difficult regional issues.”

Robinson did not bring up Manila’s displeasure at Australia’s recent failure to support the Philippines’ bid for a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favor of the Philippines’ petition to invalidate China’s claim of historic rights over almost the entire SCS.

China has ignored the PCA ruling.

Marcos, the successor of Duterte, earlier promised to uphold the PCA ruling.

On June 10, National Security Adviser-designate Clarita Carlos said bilateral and multilateral negotiations with China to settle the SCS territorial disputes will continue under the Marcos administration.

China, the Philippines, and several other littoral states are locked in a territorial dispute over the SCS where Beijing claims around 80 percent of the strategic waters.

Ongoing negotiations include the crafting of the binding Code of Conduct with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

On Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) vowed to exercise its constitutional mandate to protest “any act by foreign entities that threaten and undermine the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and legitimate maritime entitlements.”

The DFA said its diplomatic protests are “sufficiently grounded” on recommendations and reports from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).

“The DFA, as the chief implementer of an independent foreign policy, as mandated by the Philippine Constitution, is not beholden to any foreign entity and serves only the interests of the Philippines and the Filipino people,” the statement said.

Nonetheless, the department assured the public that it “upholds only the country’s national interest and the interest of the Filipino people, and it shall relentlessly defend the sovereignty of the republic.”

The DFA statement was a reaction to a column published by a national daily insinuating that the DFA protests against China were “controlled by the US State Department.”

The DFA said most of the Philippines’ diplomatic protests were lodged against China “simply because it is the country that has been conducting the most illegal and provocative actions in the WPS.”

These activities range from the harassment of Filipino fishermen, shadowing and harassment of Philippine maritime assets, unauthorized marine scientific research, and non-innocent passage in the Philippines’ archipelagic waters, even during military exercises.

“China undertakes these activities in spite of the agreement between President Duterte and President Xi to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the SCS (South China Sea),” the DFA said.

It also said the framework for filing of protests is “clear and automatic: once a transgression is verified, a protest is filed.”

Under the Duterte administration, the department has filed over 300 protests against unprovoked Chinese illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea.

It has also filed six protests against illegal activities by Vietnam in the Philippines’ legitimate maritime zones.

“The timing and publication of information on diplomatic protests is the sole prerogative of the DFA and of no other entity. Unless this framework is changed by the next administration, protests will continue to be filed,” the DFA said.

On the case of the reported harassment of RV Legend, a Taiwanese research vessel also carrying Filipino scientists, the department underscored that the “blatant Chinese actions against the Philippines” prompted the DFA to protest and publicize it.

Friday saw the conclusion of joint training exercises between the Philippines and the United States.

Held from June 6 to June 17, 2022, the initial two-week joint training conducted in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, and Puerto Princesa City, Palawan enhanced the interoperability and aviation-related capabilities of the US Marine Corps (USMC) and Philippine Marine Corps (PMC).

Troops from the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Naval Wing also joined the military exercise.

A Philippine military statement said both the PMC and the USMCdemonstrated aviation assets as they conducted training on combined and joint forward arming and refueling, high mobility artillery rocket system rapid Infiltration, and unmanned aviation systems.

“Training side by side increases our combined military capability, but also our friendship, which directly contributes to the strength of our alliance,” US Marine Forces Pacific Commanding General Lt. Gen. Stteven Rudder said in a US Embassy statement.

“This exercise builds on decades of cooperation, friendship, and shared experience,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Jimmy Larida, PMC 3rd Marine Brigade Commander lauded the exercise held in Palawan, saying it boosted the two countries’ marine and aviation units’ “effectiveness and readiness” to protect their respective territories.

The second phase of the program, called MASA 202, will be held from July 18 to 22 in Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Taguig City.