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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Coast Guard opens new outpost in far-flung Itbayat

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The Philippines said Friday it had opened a coast guard post in the country’s far north to boost security following China’s “military build-up” near Taiwan over the past two years.

The outpost in Itbayat, Batanes “shall gather essential maritime data and intelligence, enabling the (Philippine Coast Guard) to respond effectively to threats such as illicit trade, trafficking, piracy, and foreign intrusions,” National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said in a statement.

Itbayat is located around 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Taiwan’s south coast.

China said on Friday that Taiwan’s leadership was pushing the self-ruled island into war and warned of further “countermeasures” as Beijing conducted military drills around the territory.

Chinese warships and fighter jets surrounded Taiwan on the second day of drills that Beijing said were a test of its ability to seize the island, days after its new president was sworn in.

In Manila, the Philippine Navy said it monitoring the situation in Taiwan.

“We do not want to speculate but we are also, on our end, monitoring the situation,” Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. said.

“Of course, anything that transpires around us should be watched keenly and observed because it may or may not have an effect on us,” he added.

Año, for his part, noted that in 2022, the area around Itbayat “witnessed a military build-up as China responded to political developments between Taiwan and the United States.”

“Securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation along the Luzon Strait is crucial for ensuring Philippine national security and economic prosperity,” Año said.

The PCG outpost in the country’s northern region followed the identification of two latest additional EDCA sites are in Cagayan – the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta. Ana and the Lal-Lo Airport — as part of defense cooperation with the United States.

The EDCA sites in Isabela and Cagayan in the northernmost tip of the country have alarmed Beijing because of its proximity to Taiwan.

Ano said he sees the Luzon Strait, which lies between the Philippines and Taiwan, both as a “vital international waterway” and “a potential flashpoint for regional and international conflicts.”

It was the focus earlier this month of major annual joint military exercises between Manila and its longtime ally the United States.

These included using missiles and artillery to repel an imaginary invasion force off the northwest of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

Beijing and Manila are in a bitter diplomatic dispute over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

China has built artificial islands and military installations in waters close to the Philippines.

Its efforts to enforce its claims have in recent years included water cannon attacks by China Coast Guard vessels that damaged Philippine government boats and injured several crew members. With AFP

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