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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

PH asserts WPS presence

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The Philippine Coast Guard is conducting drills in the South China Sea that an official said Sunday were part of efforts to secure the country's “maritime jurisdiction” over the disputed waters.

NAVAL DRILLS. Utilizing  eight capital ships and several vessels of the national government, the Philippine Coast Guard steps up its maritime drills in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea under the newly-activated Task Force Pagsasanay.  The naval drills  also serve as an enhanced effort to patrol the high seas, officials say. Courtesy of PCG

The exercises near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island and China-controlled Scarborough Shoal come amid heightened tensions over the resource-rich sea.

The latest diplomatic wrangle between the two countries was triggered by the detection last month of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Spratly Islands.

Most of the boats have since dispersed around the contested archipelago.

China – which claims almost the entirety of the sea – has refused repeated demands by the Philippines to call back the ships, which Manila says are maritime militia vessels and Beijing says are fishing boats.

In response, the Philippines has deployed more patrol vessels, including Coast Guard and Navy ships, to intensify surveillance and prevent illegal fishing.

Courtesy of PCG

The coast guard drills began last week.

"We are supporting the whole-of-nation approach in securing our maritime jurisdiction," coast guard spokesman Commodore Armando Balilo said.

The exercises involve training in navigation, small boat operations, maintenance and logistical operations.

They are being held near Thitu Island and Scarborough Shoal, as well as the Batanes islands in the north, and the southern and eastern parts of the country.

Scarborough—one of the region's richest fishing grounds—has long been a flashpoint between Manila and Beijing.

China seized it from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.

The drills began as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) held joint exercises with US soldiers that ended Friday.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the South China Sea to be without basis.

But once-frosty relations between Manila and Beijing have warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte, who set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment.

Courtesy of PCG

The Philippine Foreign and Defense secretaries, however, have been engaged in a war of words with Beijing.

The Foreign Affairs Department has been filing daily protests over the Chinese vessels and, in a rare move, recently summoned Beijing's envoy to express its "utmost displeasure" over the issue.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Beijing no longer listens to Manila and “simply ignores us.”

The country, he said, should initiate the move to present a united front with other claimants in the West Philippine Sea "to make China realize that what it is doing is wrong and against international laws.

Drilon blamed the administration's policy of appeasement and accommodation toward China, which merely emboldened Beijing.

“China simply ignores us because we simply condoned… what they have been doing in our territory,” Drilon said. “What we see now are the fruits of the policy of appeasement and accommodation towards China.”

Drilon said the country needed to get the support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly countries with claims on the South China Sea, to strengthen the country's stance on the West Philippine Sea.

Courtesy of PCG

“Bilateral talks with China on the maritime dispute do not work in the country’s favor,” he said.

“Apart from the protests, which I support, we should, as an objective, get the other nations to confront China, including our allies–the United States, Japan and Australia. We must unite against the unlawful Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

He added that the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in favor of the Philippines is the basis of the government in rightfully and forcefully asserting the country’s claims on the WPS.

The award was based on the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both China and the Philippines ratified.

Meanwhile, Drilon said that the alleged “verbal fishing agreement” that some sectors cited as a possible reason why Chinese vessels refuse to leave the country’s exclusive economic zone, is “invalid” if it indeed exists.

“To me, any verbal agreement is invalid. Any agreement between two nations, whether in the form of an executive agreement or a treaty must be in written form, otherwise it cannot be enforced,” Drilon said. With AFP

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