President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed security issues in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in a phone call, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Thursday.
During the call, Marcos told Macron that the Philippines is exerting all efforts “to maintain the peace, to maintain the stability, [and] keep the shipping lanes… and airways open” in the WPS, said PCO Secretary Cheloy Garafil.
The President also thanked France for its support in terms of upholding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), for its messages of support, and for even sending ships to patrol the vital waterway.
The phone call comes at a time of heightened tension between the Philippines and China because of Chinese ships in Philippine waters.
In a forum in Makati City on Wednesday, Western Mindanao Command chief Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos said the military is looking at “three lines of efforts” to further enhance the Philippines’ presence in the WPS.
Carlos said the initiatives include effective occupation of all islands now occupied by the country in the WPS, establishment of a stronger naval presence and enhancement of maritime domain awareness.
Garafil said Marcos invited the French leader to visit the Philippines whenever he heads to Asia.
French Ambassador to the Philippines Marie Fontanel on Sept. 20 relayed Macron’s invitation for Marcos to embark on a state visit to France.
Macron told Marcos that a group of French ministers would visit Manila before the end of the year, as part of the efforts to strengthen the two nations’ ties and forge more cooperation.
Marcos said the visit of the French ministers could pave the way for discussions on the outcome of the 10th Philippine-France Joint Economic Commission (JEC) meeting last June.
During the 10th JEC meeting, the Philippines and France committed to boosting bilateral cooperation in areas of infrastructure and transportation, aeronautics, energy, agriculture, electronics, maritime industry and shipbuilding.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the United States will conduct an inquiry early Friday into China’s aggressive activities in the South China Sea, following various incidents of harassment against Philippine personnel in the disputed waters.
The US Embassy in Manila disclosed that the US House of Representatives will hold a hearing on Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea waters to be titled: “Lasers and Water Cannons: Exposing the Chinese Communist Party’s Harassment in the South China Sea.”
The resource persons invited to the hearing include US State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs Jung Pak; Defense Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford; and US Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Tiongson.
The US has been supporting the Philippines’ fight for sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea, which is connected to the bigger South China Sea where Chinese aggressions against Filipino personnel and fishermen regularly occur.
US President Joe Biden and his officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and State Secretary Antony Blinken, have expressed Washington’s commitment to invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippine in case of an armed attack against the latter’s public assets in the waters.
The hearing will come several months after Chinese personnel pointed a military-grade laser at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel in February and conducted a water cannon attack against PCG vessels in August.
Both incidents happened in the waters off Ayungin Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China defended both its actions, saying its personnel did so because the Philippine side entered into the waters it claimed to be its own. It said the moves were professional and restrained.
In other developments:
* A bill seeking to revive the country’s Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program was brought to the Senate plenary on Wednesday night. Senator Jinggoy Estrada, sponsor of the bill, said the measure seeks to ensure adequate defense assets and hardware for the country through domestic production and manufacturing, development of a national defense industry and reducing dependence on foreign and overseas suppliers. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who co-sponsored the measure, said while it is vital that the Department of National Defense is given the proper budget for procurement, a self-reliant defense posture must also be built. “We do not lack heart and courage. We just need to have the right equipment,” Zubiri said in Filipino during his co-sponsorship speech.
* Delegates from the Philippines and the European Union have formed the first subcommittee on maritime cooperation that was convened as both expressed concern over China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Department of Foreign Affairs Maritime and Oceans Affairs Office Assistant Secretary Maria Angela Ponce led the Philippine side, while Paola Pampaloni, acting Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS) headed the EU delegates. The subcommittee was organized after the Philippines and the 27-member regional bloc agreed in July this year to establish a subcommittee on maritime cooperation as they were concerned about unilateral actions endangering peace in the Indo-Pacific. The next subcommittee meeting will take place in Manila in 2024.