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‘Balikatan’ not preparation for war, national security exec says

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The upcoming “Balikatan” joint military exercise by the Philippines and the United States is not a preparation for war or conflict in the West Philippine Sea, National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said.

During a news forum in Quezon City on Saturday, Malaya said the annual military exercise between the two countries is not “a declaration to escalate tension in the disputed maritime region.”

“War is not on the table – let me just make that very clear. War is not one of the instruments of national policy of the Philippines,” Malaya said.

He further stated that China tends to overreact to every action the Philippines has been doing.

“ Everything we do, there’s always a reaction from China so we can’t do things that they’re not afraid of, that’s why our people, our fellow countrymen are worried,” Malaya said.

Malaya said the Philippines continues to reach out to Beijing for a diplomatic discussions.

“We are exhausting all diplomatic options to resolve this issue. We wish a constructive dialogue with the People’s Republic of China,” Malaya noted.

Concerns of a possible escalation of conflict with China rose after reports on the sighting of the United States Army’s Mid-Range Capability Missile System (MRCS) has been deployed in Northern Luzon.

Citizens’ movement group P1NAS said the deployment of the said missile system signals a declaration of war against China. This year’s Balikatan Exercise will run from April 22 to May 10.

A geopolitical analyst meanwhile commended President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his administration for his commitment to upholding Philippine sovereignty in the WPS.

Professor Don McLain Gill also lauded the administration’s efforts in dispelling uncertainties regarding territorial disputes in the WPS. 

“We have to understand why these narratives (secret deal) are proliferating as such a speed and that is because the government under President Marcos Jr. is doing a great job in ensuring that the West Philippine Sea is clearly ours and outrightly upholding international law and the 2016 Arbitral Ruling,” Gill said.

Gill also cited the administration’s focus on legal frameworks, particularly the 2016 Arbitral Ruling and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as pillars of the Philippines’ legitimacy in the region.

Gill also dismissed recent disclosures of a “gentleman’s agreement” between the previous administration and China as baseless.

Gill further commended the efforts of the Philippine Coast Guard and military personnel, stressing, “We can definitely say that we are, or Manila, the government in its totality, along with or brave hearts in the Philippine Coast Guard, in the military are addressing the West Philippine Sea issue with utmost clarity, transparency, and consistency.”


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