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CHINA WARNED ON THREAT TO DETAIN FISHERS IN WPS; Marcos sees escalation of tension; AFP, PHL Navy ready contingencies

By ALFRED GABOT and CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

Editor in Chief and Managing Editor

SINGAPORE/BRUNEI/MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. sounded the alarm again over China’s new policy to detain Filipinos and foreigners who are alleged “trespassers” in the South China Sea, including those in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) which is part of the Philippine territory and its exclusive economic zone.

China’s move was “an escalation” of tensions in the disputed region and “worrisome,” Marcos stressed during a press briefing on the sidelines of his state visit to Brunei.

“The new policy of threatening to detain our own citizens, that is different. That is an escalation of the situation. So, yes, it is now very worrisome,” Marcos said.

Earlier in Brunei, Marcos stressed to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah of Brunei the need for nations to stand united in the face of global challenges, such as climate change and geopolitical tensions. 

During the bilateral meeting, Marcos cited the need for the two countries to unite amid the changing regional and global landscape. 

“The landscape of our region and of the world is changing in fundamental ways. The challenges brought by climate change, environmental degradation, and geopolitical tensions find it necessary for nation-states to cooperate more closely and more effectively,” Marcos told Sulltan Bolkiah.

During the state banquet, Marcos emphasized the need to work with ASEAN-member states and the BIMP-East ASEAN Growth Area to ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

This followed the action of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Philippines of filing a protest against China’s fishing ban in the disputed water, saying  it violated international law and undermined the country’s sovereignty and maritime rights.

The Philippines does not recognize China’s May 1 to September 16 fishing moratorium as it included Manila’s maritime zones over which the Philippines had sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

“The Philippines called on China to cease and desist from the conduct of illegal actions that violate the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in its maritime zones,” the DFA said in a statement.

Marcos vowed to articulate the legal and geopolitical position of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) before the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

President Marcos said the importance of the waterway to global trade and economy would be thoroughly mentioned in his message for the 21st edition of the dialogue.

In a media interview in Brunei Darussalam prior to departing for Singapore, the President said his keynote address to the defense meeting on Friday is highly important, saying the “invitation in itself is highly significant.”

“The fact that they asked the Philippine President to come and speak on that very subject is significant in the sense that it is a recognition that there are challenges that are facing the Philippines, specifically,” President Marcos told reporters.

The defense gathering is putting together some 550 defense ministers, military leaders and senior defense officials, as well as business leaders and security experts, from across the Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond to discuss critical security challenges.

The Philippine Navy (PN), meanwhile,  said it has contingency plans in place should tensions heighten over China’s announcement of a unilateral fishing ban which covers the Philippines’ maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“Rest assured that we have sufficient contingency plans in place in the event that situations will escalate,” PN spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said in a media briefing.

He said the PN, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), will support the “actions of the other maritime law enforcement agencies especially the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)” that they will undertake regarding the issue.

He said China’s actions that would threaten Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity would only strengthen the PN and the AFP’s resolve to perform their mandate.

Marcos called China’s policy against perceived “trespassers” as “unacceptable,” and vowed that the Philippines will take “whatever measures” to protect Filipinos.

China reportedly empowered its own Coast Guard to detain for up to 60 days without trial foreign trespassers who will cross what it claims are its borders.

This followed the successful conduct of the Atin To Coalition civilian convoy to Scarborough Shoal.

The WPS is part of the vast South China Sea, which Beijing claims entirely as its own.

However, in 2016, the Philippines won a landmark international arbitration case against China, invalidating its ambitious claim over South China Sea— a ruling that Beijing vehemently disregarded.

President Marcos Jr. declared there are some sorts of a middle ground with China to ensure peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

“Yes, of course, there are,” President Marcos told the Philippine media delegation in Brunei when asked if there are meetings or backchannel efforts to resolve WPS issues.

The President said the government is exhausting all remedies to bring progress in resolving the issues — to stop China’s aggressive actions and to allow Filipinos to fish in WPS.

He said the government is trying mechanisms that will work for the Philippines.

“I’ve said it many times. You should try everything. You don’t know what effort is going to be successful. So, as any point of contact that I can establish I will use it. And at every level, at the leaders’ level, at the ministerial, sub-ministerial, private,” President Marcos said.

“As long as it gives us, brings us progress in terms of resolving these. And you know, first of all, number one, to stop the aggressive actions such as water-cannoning and lasers and barrier putting etcetera. And secondly, allowing our fishermen to fish. Let’s start with that,” he added.

The President said the Philippines can embark on the next step — “to see if there is a way to resolve all these claims” and to go back to peaceful ways between the Philippines and China “and continue to try and develop” the relationship of the two countries.“There are always, always efforts at every level,” he added

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