The Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., has refuted claims suggesting that the United States’ presence in the Philippines is exacerbating tensions in the region. During an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), Teodoro asserted that it is, in fact, China’s “expansionist policy” that is driving up tensions in the area.

“In the context of the Philippines, I respectfully disagree; it is China’s expansionist policy that is actually escalating tensions, not only with us but also with Vietnam and other regional actors. Their insistence on the 10-dash line is clear evidence of their intent to heighten tensions in the region,” Teodoro emphasized.

He pointed out that the primary issue at present is China’s harassment activities, as they refuse to acknowledge the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Teodoro clarified that the Philippines is not seeking to contain China but rather enforcing international law, which is in their favor. He also criticized China’s use of the term “containment,” suggesting that it is disingenuous since it implies an intention to expand.

Regarding the August 5 water cannon incident involving the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino resupply boats in the Ayungin Shoal, Teodoro highlighted that it demonstrates the Philippines’ determination to assert its rights independently, without excessive reliance on the US.

“The water cannoning incident proves that we are not overly dependent on the US. If we were, we would have requested their escort, which we did not do because we want to pursue our own approach and maintain a balanced foreign policy. Our foremost priority is to assert our rights under international law,” he added.

Teodoro also expressed the Philippines’ willingness to engage with China, provided there is a framework based on international law.

In response, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) official expressed disappointment at doubts cast on the PCG’s capabilities to safeguard the country’s exclusive economic zone. Commodore Jay Tarriela, the PCG spokesperson, affirmed the commitment of the 30,000-strong PCG to fulfill their duty in the West Philippine Sea, regardless of external assistance.

“It is disheartening to hear doubts about our ability to carry out this duty without relying on external actors,” he remarked.

Additionally, both Philippine and American military commanders have indicated that they may recommend the establishment of more Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the Philippines. However, they emphasized that further discussions and approvals are needed before any decisions are made. The US Indo-Pacific Command chief, Adm. John Aquilino, mentioned that additional projects have been identified for the existing EDCA sites, with substantial investment from the United States to enhance the capability and capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).