• Protest China Sea incursions
• Remain neutral on Russia war
• Enhance defense treaty with US
The incoming Marcos administration has laid out its security plans for the ‘Big 3’ countries of China, Russia, and the United States—including lodging diplomatic protests against its Asian neighbor if it still sends ships into Philippine territorial waters, the incoming national security adviser said Friday.
“We will continue to file diplomatic protests (against China). Never mind that we are filing 10,000 of them because if you don’t, that means we acquiesce to the situation on the ground,” said Clarita Carlos, selected by President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as his national security adviser.
The Philippines will also stay neutral in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Carlos saying the country has had a “very good relationship” with Russia in the past, and a neutral stance could enable the Philippines to secure much-needed oil and gas from Russia.
As she rejected the possibility the Philippines might join the West in sanctioning Russia, Carlos said she was considering enhancing the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.
Carlos said the 71-year treaty was old, and that the US has already come up with a new framework for its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
She said the review should also include the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, which are the legs on which the MDT stands.
The incoming national security adviser said Manila would pursue multilateral and bilateral talks with China and other powers, saying the alternative to talk was “something unacceptable to all of us.”
Beijing, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, rejects a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that recognized Manila’s claim to its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea and rejected Beijing’s territorial claims as excessive.
Last month, Marcos said he would not allow “a single millimeter” of the country’s coastal rights to be trampled upon.
“We have a very important ruling in our favor and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right,” he said.
“We’re talking about China. We talk to China consistently with a firm voice…. We cannot go to war with them. That’s the last thing we need right now,” the President-elect added.
Carlos noted that there was an “error in judgment” in connection with the VFA review that was started by the Duterte administration, saying it is the MDT that needs to be reviewed and not its implementing arms.
Asked if the Marcos administration will push for joint maritime patrols with the US, Carlos said they will include more countries.
“We’re trying to convince them (the US) the best way really to have international order is for us to be inclusive,” she pointed out.
Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman committed to help the Philippines attain its defense modernization goals.
Sherman reaffirmed this commitment to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. during her visit to Manila on Thursday, saying Washington will “help the Philippines meet its defense modernization goals.”
The US official also reassured Locsin of Washington’s commitment to helping the Philippines, a traditional and long-time ally, address the daunting regional and global challenges both countries face.
Locsin said both sides agreed to “engage constructively” in protecting democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
The US, as an “important and strategic trading and investment partner of the Philippines,” will also support the country’s economic recovery efforts, including its transition to clean energy and digitalization.
The country’s top diplomat reiterated the Philippines’ invitation for the US to support the three-year United Nations Joint Program on Human Rights (2021-2024).
During the meeting, Sherman thanked Locsin for his “significant contributions to the Philippine-United States alliance, especially in light of the restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in July 2021.”
Before the call on Locsin, Sherman also met with President-elect Marcos Jr., who agreed to deepen the long-standing alliance between the two countries.
Sherman is in the country to meet with both outgoing and incoming administrations to discuss concrete ways to further strengthen the relations.
She is the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the country since the start of the pandemic, and is visiting the Philippines for the first time as part of a series of visits to the region.
Also on Friday, the Federation of Free Workers labor group supported the appointment of Carlos as national security adviser, saying she is “more than qualified for the job.”
China, the Philippines, and several other littoral states are locked in a territorial dispute over the SCS where Beijing claims around 80 percent of the strategic waters.
To date, concerned parties are holding bilateral and multilateral negotiations to discuss the maritime row.
The talks include the crafting of the binding Code of Conduct with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Meanwhile, outgoing Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has worked hard for the Philippines to attain a credible defense posture to protect its vast maritime territories.
“The department also steadily worked towards achieving a credible defense posture through priority infrastructure development in the municipality of Kalayaan, construction of maritime domain awareness platforms, heightened deployment of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) detachments in border islands, and procurement of game-changing assets, such as combat utility helicopters, missile frigates, close air-support aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, air defense systems, various force protection equipment, and weapon systems,” he said in a statement Friday.
Lorenzana also said the AFP also significantly stepped up its external defense operations to secure the country’s strategic border areas and exclusive economic zone by increasing naval surface and maritime air patrols.
“With these modern and multi-role assets added to the AFP’s inventory, together with the improvements and reforms we have instituted, we are hopeful that the defense sector’s trajectory will continue its upward momentum and lead to sustained peace and stability for the nation,” he added.
At a recent roundtable, Sherman said the United States supports the Philippines “completely” to ensure its sovereignty and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
“The Philippines has been a leader and a champion for upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in the face of increasing encroachments,” she said.
“The United States remains committed to standing with the government of the Philippines to uphold the rules and laws underpinning the international maritime order, and we have spoken up against infringements of the Philippines’ sovereign rights,” she said.
The statement came hours before the Philippine government on Thursday said it protested the return of some 100 illegal Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef.
Sherman noted that the existing bilateral maritime dialogue between the US and the Philippines serves as an instrument for the two nations to discuss issues in the South China Sea and “build strategies and work together” to make sure that people’s livelihoods are protected.
“There are so many issues in the maritime domain, security is certainly one of them. Unregulated, underreported, illegal fishing is another, the climate is another,” she said.
“There are huge numbers of issues and I’m really glad that this maritime dialogue has gotten underway,” she added. With AFP