MANILA — The United States has reaffirmed its support for the Philippines to uphold its sovereign rights and defend its territory.
US Embassy in the Philippines Political Counselor Brett Blackshaw made the statement during a forum entitled “Modernizing Philippine Defense Capabilities and Elevating Security Partnerships” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute in Makati City on Tuesday.
“There has been a renewed focus in standing in support of the Philippines as you uphold your sovereign rights, defend your territory and defend international law,” Blackshaw said.
He also called the Philippines an “equal sovereign partner” while highlighting the two countries’ “reinvigorated bilateral relations” under the Marcos administration.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is currently in the US for a five-day official visit.
Blackshaw said Marcos would be hosted at the Pentagon on Wednesday, where Washington and Manila were expected to issue the first bilateral defense guidelines between the two countries.
“One thing that will come out of this visit is on track and to be made public on Wednesday when President Marcos visits the Pentagon is the first ever bilateral defense guidelines between the US and the Philippines. They are an important policy document; an important way allies can articulate why we have this alliance today and in the future,” the US official said.
“We have it in other important alliances, for example, with Japan... It’s a useful way to lay out the alliance and what are the contemporary challenges we face, what are the mechanisms we use to manage it and lay out shared priorities,” he added.
Marcos’ official visit to Washington comes just days after a Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly cut off a Philippine patrol vessel carrying journalists in Ayungin Shoal, causing a near-collision.
The PCG’s BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo had broadcast their intention to sail into Ayungin Shoal to conduct a site survey and asked the Chinese vessels to “stay clear from our passage.”
But the Chinese Coast Guard responded over the radio that the Philippine ships were illegally sailing in China’s territorial waters and told them to leave.
With China’s continued aggression, former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff retired General Emmanuel Bautista said Manila must continue advancing the Philippine narrative.
“We must be prepared to counter those countermoves. The battle of narratives, the battle of influence. Retaining the initiative. We have to fight that war on information,” Bautista told the media during the forum.
He continued, “Another challenge is achieving national consensus. To confront a bigger adversary, we need to move as a nation and advance the Philippine narrative. That is, in essence, the whole of nation approach.”
For his part, Stratbase ADR Institute Trustee and Convenor Dr. Renato de Castro said the government must vow to continue supporting and sourcing funds for the AFP modernization program.
“Formulation of a national security policy and strategy addressing the present security challenges in the West Philippine Sea and Taiwan. We have a threat out there and there is a need to link our modernization program with the alliance. Pass a law or policy guideline that requires the Philippine government to increase defense budget to 2 percent,” De Castro said.
“We need, really, to build up the AFP and it’s not the responsibility of our ally to pay for it. It’s the responsibility of every Filipino. We can only do it if we effect economic growth and development. We have to shift the AFP away from internal security to external defense. The AFP cannot be a dignified constabulary forever,” he added.
UK, AUSTRALIA, CANADA, JAPAN RALLY BEHIND PH
Following the near collision of Philippine and Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Japan reiterated their call for respect for international law.
In a statement posted through her social media account, British Ambassador Laure Beaufils said the UK was “concerned by continued reports of dangerous conduct towards Filipino vessels in the South China Sea.”
“The United Kingdom stands steadfast in its commitment to international law, in particular, UNCLOS, in the South China Sea,” she added.
Australian envoy Hae Kyong Yu said she was worried over “reports of unprofessional and dangerous conduct against the Philippines in its Exclusive Economic Zone.”
“Australia reiterates our call for peace, stability and respect for UNCLOS in the South China Sea, a vital international waterway,” she said on Twitter.
In a separate statement, Canadian ambassador David Hartman noted that “Canada reiterates its call for upholding the rules-based international order in the South China Sea.”
He went on, “We are troubled by dangerous and unprofessional conduct in this region and unreservedly support the government of the Philippines in enforcing its sovereign rights within its EEZ. Peace and stability in the South China Sea are essential to the interests of the international community.”
Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Head Koichi Haguida also expressed concern over China’s escalation of attempts “to change the status quo in the West Philippine Sea.”
Haguida visited the country and met with Vice President Sara Duterte and Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin over the weekend.