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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Joint US-PH WPS patrols start

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Marcos: 3-day maritime, air rounds to boost regional security

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday declared the beginning of joint maritime and air patrols between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Indo-Pacific Command in the West Philippine Sea.

In a post on the social media platform X, President Marcos said the initiative was a testament to the administration’s commitment to enhancing the interoperability of the country’s maritime and air patrols.

The joint maritime and air patrols are scheduled to continue until Nov. 23, the President said.

“Today marks the beginning of joint maritime and air patrols— a collaborative effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Indo-Pacific Command in the West Philippine Sea,” Mr. Marcos said in his post.

“Through collaborative efforts, we aim to enhance regional security and foster a seamless partnership with the United States in safeguarding our shared interests,” he added.

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The West Philippine Sea has been the site of an increasing number of incidents involving Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia that harass and seek to block Philippine boats from entering disputed areas such as Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which is well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Arriving from a six-day visit from the United States, Mr. Marcos on Monday said the Philippines and the US vowed to continue working together to maintain peace and stability in the region.

“Together with the US, our oldest and our only treaty ally, and our growing network of other partners, we will be able to bring peace, stability, [and] prosperity to the Indo-Pacific region,” President Marcos said upon returning to the country.

The combined sea and air patrols are among the planned activities agreed upon by the Mutual Defense Board – Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) of both countries.

The MDB-SEB serves as a framework for security and cooperation, allowing the Philippines and the United States to discuss security issues and coordinate various military activities for the upcoming year, including the annual Balikatan exercises.

On his last stop in Hawaii, the President said the Philippines has started separate negotiations for a code of conduct with Southeast Asian countries.

“We are now in the midst of negotiating our own code of conduct, for example, with Vietnam because we are still waiting for the code of conduct between China and ASEAN and the progress has been rather slow unfortunately,” President Marcos said during a round-table discussion at the Daniel Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“And so we’ve taken the initiative to approach those other countries around ASEAN with whom we have existing territorial conflicts,” he added.

The President emphasized the urgency of establishing a framework for peaceful coexistence in the region, stating the need for ASEAN’s code of conduct for the region.

Mr. Marcos identified Vietnam and Malaysia as key partners in these bilateral COC negotiations, underscoring the paramount importance of maintaining peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea.

While actively pursuing separate COC arrangements with its ASEAN neighbors, the Philippines remains committed to strengthening its ties with the United States, its only treaty ally, and other like-minded nations, Mr. Marcos said.

The President commended the United States for its unwavering support,

not only in the form of verbal assurances but also through concrete actions. He also acknowledged the Philippines’ close partnerships with Australia, South Korea, and Japan.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council (NSC) said the plan of a group organizing a convoy of civilian vessels to deliver supplies to troops on the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal would be “ill-advised” given the tension in the area.

The NSC said on Tuesday that the “Atin Ito” coalition could instead send their Christmas convoy to other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group.

“There are also frontliners in those features and they also deserve Christmas goodies and donations from the public,” NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said in a statement.

He said visiting the islands of Lawak, Kota, Likas, Pag-Asa, Parola, or Panata, or Rizal Reef would allow them to “visit a vaster area of the West Philippine Sea” and “more fully realize” their goal of improving the living conditions of communities in the tense sea.

The NSC said that it supports the civilian convoy “in principle” but not the planned trip “or any similar undertaking” to Ayungin.

Government resupply missions to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre have met stiff resistance from Chinese vessels, including the use of water cannons and blocking maneuvers that have led to collisions.

Malaya said that the coalition could also turn over the Christmas donations to the Philippine Navy or Philippine Coast Guard “and we will gladly bring the donated supplies to BRP Sierra Madre during the routine rotation and resupply missions.”

The civilian group, which includes Akbayan Party, is organizing a 40-vessel convoy that will sail from El Nido in Palawan to Ayungin Shoal to distribute food and navigation tools.

They said the civilian convoy is meant to “normalize our voyages to the West Philippine Sea.”

Chinese vessels, which include ships of the Chinese Coast Guard and People’s Liberation Army-Navy, in the West Philippine Sea have kept Filipino boats away from some fishing areas.

Senator Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan said at the launch on Monday that “it’s not an exaggeration when we say Filipinos are being harassed on a daily basis.”

Also on Tuesday, Senator Robin Padilla called on the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) to strengthen public awareness of the situation in the West Philippine Sea to counter Chinese propaganda, misinformation and fake news.

In Senate Resolution 864, Padilla called on the PCO to “communicate to the public in an understandable way” the relevant legal documents, international treaties and bilateral and multilateral agreements on government’s actions in the West Philippine Sea.

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