MANILA — Joint patrols in the disputed South China Sea among the Philippines and its allies could begin "very soon," the Philippines' envoy to the United States said Monday.
"I foresee it to happen very soon," Ambassador Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez told ANC's "Headstart".
"This time, we're seriously sitting down and putting down the parameters of where the Philippines and Australia, who is obviously very much interested in joining these joint patrols or joint exercises with the United States, and hopefully, Japan will also look at this opportunity for them to join forces," he added.
The move is meant to preserve freedom of navigation in the resource-rich waterway, through which trillions of dollars in trade pass annually, Romualdez said.
His statement comes after President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr's recent visit to the US amid China's growing aggression in the Asia-Pacific region.
Marcos earlier said the joint patrols in the South China Sea could begin this year. The countries included in the joint patrols are the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Romualdez stressed members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations wanted peace and stability in the region.
"For us, for many of us in the ASEAN region, we want peace and stability in our area because we want more economic activity between the US and the ASEAN, and of course, China and the ASEAN," he said.
In the interview, Romualdez disclosed there were no discussions yet on any additional sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
"There was no discussion on additional sites. It was more on what these sites would be used for... A lot of sites have been chosen because of disaster preparedness," he said.
The Philippines and US this year raised their EDCA sites to nine, drawing concern from China.
China claims most of the strategic waters as part of its territory. The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also have overlapping claims.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 that China's basis for its claims has no legal backing. Beijing refuses to honor the decision.
In April, Washington and Manila agreed to resume joint patrols in the South China Sea, and struck a deal to give US troops access to another four military facilities in the Philippines, on top of five existing EDCA sites.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse