MANILA – The maritime cooperation between the Philippines and the United States will allow the country to have a credible deterrent and uphold its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
This was emphasized by US Embassy in Manila political counselor Brett Blackshaw during a forum titled “Modernizing Philippine defense capabilities and elevating security partnerships,” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute on Tuesday.
This event coincides with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington.
It also happened on the heels of a near-collision between Philippine and Chinese vessels in Ayungin Shoal and the presence of over 100 Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
“A lot of our focus within the alliance of maritime cooperation is ensuring that you in the Philippines (have) a credible deterrent to uphold and defend its sovereign rights. The past shows us appeasement does not work. It is important to show confidence and to develop the capabilities to stand up for lawful rights. And that is why having allies and friends matters so much,” Blackshaw said.
“Deterrence is not about provoking conflict. It’s about defending and that means, specifically EDCA. That is an important way that both our forces can increase their interoperability and training and exercise together to enable the Philippines and their alliance in partnership to be able to respond in any kind of crisis and to uphold our obligations under the Mutual Defense treaty,” he stressed.
At the White House meeting, Biden reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad alliance commitments to the Philippines.
He emphasized that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US commitments under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.
Blackshaw said that on a policy level, the United States is ready to move ahead with its combined maritime activities with the Philippines.
“It [maritime cooperation] means activities together in the West Philippine Sea. I know that often in public the word joint patrols is used. We don’t really use that (on) the US side. We talk about combined maritime activities, which cover a whole range of doing stuff together in the South China Sea, West Philippine Sea. The value there is it shows the Philippines has partners and friends who support your lawful sovereign rights,” he added.
Meanwhile, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista explained the importance of deterrence at the WPS. It was during his leadership in 2014 that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed.
Bautista recalled how the two-month standoff between the Philippines and China at the Panatag Shoal in 2012 led to a realization that the Philippines lacked deterrence in the WPS.
“A reality check during the Panatag Shoal incident [in 2012] revealed that we really had no deterrence to deter aggression from other countries and that, in fact, highlighted the need for us to upgrade our capability, certainly, our military capability. That incident in 2012 really was a realization for us so that in 2014, we signed EDCA. It was our strategic move to put us in our better position to navigate those complex situations we were thrown into,” he added.
“The Philippines stands on a moral high ground when we won the case in the Hague. We have demonstrated that we are able to stand up for our rights. We hope that we can leverage that capital to achieve multilateral support from other potential allies from ASEAN and the rest of the international community,” Bautista stressed.
Meanwhile, Stratbase president Dindo Manhit also reiterated the need to continuously strengthen the country’s defense cooperation with like-minded partners such as the United States, Japan and Australia.
“With various elements attempting to tear down the rules-based international order, particularly in the WPS, the Marcos Jr administration must continue to engage with like-minded partners such as the United States, Japan, and Australia, among others, to secure Philippine waters and contribute to the security of the region. The current administration must implement a responsive and strategic national security policy that enhances the capacities of our military and protects the livelihood of our fisherfolk,” he explained.
Manhit also emphasized the need to continuously modernize the Philippine defense capabilities through joint patrols and military exercises with like-minded states to allow the Philippines to respond to internal and external security risks effectively and strategically.
“This is demonstrated in the recently concluded Balikatan military exercises between the United States and the Philippines, which Australia and Japan also participated in. Deepening cooperation is also seen in the announcement of four new sites under the EDCA. These developments are a practice of an independent foreign policy aimed at facilitating renewed dialogue and working toward peaceful solutions in a rules-based international order,” Manhit said. (PNA)