MORE PHL-US JOINT PATROLS IN WEST PHILIPPINE SEA SEEN As tension mounts, Australia, Canada, Japan, others joining

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief, Philippine News Today

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – Tension continues to mount in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea as the United States and Australia conducted joint patrols in the region to promote freedom of navigation and flights over international waters and other countries get ready to join a multi-nation patrol.

As President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reiterated that the country would protect its territory and would not give an an inch to intruders like China, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. disclosed that the Philippines and the United States would hold more joint patrols in the coming days, following the successful three-day “maritime cooperation activity” (MCA) between the two nations last week.
US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Defense Secretary Antony Blinken had one after the other renewed their pledge that their support for the Philippines was “iron clad” in keeping with the mutual defense treaty of the two countries signed in 1951.

“There will be several iterations of joint patrols and this should not be an issue because it is entirely within the rights of the Philippines to patrol anywhere, whether in the high seas or in the area where it has jurisdiction pursuant to international law,” Teodoro said  on the sidelines of the Department of National Defense’s 84th founding anniversary at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Teodoro did not give specific dates on  the next joint patrol with the US but added they  are part of the country’s engagements with its allies and partners.

Following the US-Philippine joint patrol, the Philippines and Australia also conducted a Maritime Cooperative Activity, as part of their strategic partnership.

 President  Marcos hailed the launch of the inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activity” between our armed forces and the defense forces of our strategic partner, Australia,.

This developed after the signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership between Marcos and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Sept. 8.

The President said the Maritime Cooperative Activity between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF) would enhance the maritime bilateral interoperability of the two countries.

In  a Joint Statement issued by Secretary Teodoro  and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles, the inaugural Maritime Cooperative Activity “in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines”  was conducted onNov. 25 to 27.

The activity  included Philippine Navy vessels BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Davao Del Sur, the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Toowoomba, five Philippine Air Force surveillance aircraft, and a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft.

“There are plans along the way for this year, next year and the succeeding years. In the seas, we have (the) right of innocent passage and the freedom of navigation within our area, we have the sole police jurisdiction over the area and it is a question for the Philippines and not any other country to determine,” Teodoro said.

Sought for comment on Chinese allegations that the Philippines have enlisted foreign forces to stir up trouble, Teodoro said it is actually China who is the one stirring trouble.

“Sino ba ang nananakop? Sino ba ang (kumukubkob)?,(Who is the one occupying? Who is the one encroaching in the South China Sea, sa (in) the West Philippine Sea (WPS)? It is China, the Philippines is not stirring up trouble. This is a reverse of the truth. It’s an absolute falsity for China to say that and it is once again reversing the truth consistent with its narrative,” he said.

“The Philippines is not stirring up trouble as we always reiterate. our interests are to protect our rights in accordance with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and international law which China purports to respect in words but unfortunately not in deeds and so whatever China says about this I think their credibility is very, very low,” he added.

On Nov. 21 to 23, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) launched maritime tactical exercises as part of the three-day MCA in the WPS.

Two vessels of the Philippine Navy, the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), performed cross-deck operations, Officer of the Watch maneuvers, and publication and communication exercises with the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10).

The MCA is an approved activity of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board and within the framework of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. It aims to test protocols and further enhance interoperability between the AFP and USINDOPACOM.

On Thursday, AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said a Chinese vessel shadowed the joint maritime patrol of the Philippines and the US but did not commit any aggressive actions.

The joint maritime patrol, which consisted of two Philippine Navy ships and one US Navy vessel, took place at about 10:15 a.m. Thursday near the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project Platform, about 27 nautical miles from Palawan.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said the Philippines categorically rejects China’s assertion that it has enlisted “foreign forces” to patrol the South China Sea.

“The joint patrols conducted by the Philippines with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign nation and in accordance with international law, the RP (Republic of the Philippines)-US Mutual Defense Treaty, and the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippines has the inherent and sovereign right to conduct joint air and naval patrols with its partners, allies, and friends to ensure the security and stability of the region,” he added.

He also said the maritime cooperation activity is a series of goodwill activities at sea, which includes passing exercises, joint voyages, maneuvers, communications checks, and cross-deck operations.

This ensures and enhances the interoperability between the armed forces of the Philippines and the US and is not directed at any country.