Americas News


By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/WASHINGTON, September 21, 2023 – The Philippines and the United States, including their allies, appear to  be gearing up for possible military confrontation in the West Philippine Sea and the Indo-Pacific.

This as the military forces of the Philippines and the US agreed to expand their bilateral engagements next year to over 500 military exercises, drills and other activities.
Members of ASEAN, meanwhile, launched their non-combat drills in Indonesia, named ASEAN Solidarity Exercise, that include joint maritime patrol operations, search and rescue operations, and humanitarian and disaster relief, Indonesian military chief Adm. Yudo Margono said.
He said the five-day exercise in Indonesia’s Natuna waters aims to boost military ties among the ASEAN nations and enhance interoperability. The drills also involve civilian groups involved in humanitarian relief and disaster prevention.

The PHL-US agreement for the expanded bilateral engagement was made by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headed by AFP Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr. and the US Indo-Pacific Command (US INDOPACOM) led by Commander Admiral John they concluded their annual Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting at the AFP General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

At the same time, the United States added 63 more projects within the nine Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites to enhance operational capability amid what it said as complex security environment in the Indo-Pacific region.

In a press briefing after the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Board (MDB) meeting, US Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral John Aquilino, said the number is up from the 32 that have been approved.

The US has allotted over $100 million for the construction of various facilities intended to modernize the AFP existing camps and increase their operational capability, said Aquino, adding the US and Philippine alliance would ensure free navigation, flights and trade in the Indo Pacific region.

Aquilino said the EDCA sites maybe used to preposition weapons given the current complex security situations not only in the West Philippine Sea but also the tensions between China and Taiwan.

In a related development, contingency plans are being crafted in case armed attacks transpire amid China’s continued incursion in the West Philippine Sea, according to AFP Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Captain Peter Jempsun de Guzman.

De Guzman made the disclosure during a joint Senate committee public hearing.

In the hearing, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa prodded de Guzman on how prepared the force would be if an event such as this occurred.

To this, de Guzman answered: “We will be ready when the time comes.”

“We are preparing the necessary contingency plans with the supervision of the Department of National Defense for all eventualities, especially in the ongoing missions in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Admiral Margono said the five-day exercise in Indonesia’s Natuna waters aims to boost military ties among the ASEAN nations and enhance interoperability. The drills also involve civilian groups involved in humanitarian relief and disaster prevention.

ASEAN nations have taken part in naval exercises before with other countries — including both the United States and China — but this week’s drills are the first involving just the bloc and are being read by many as a signal to China.
In another development, China has built two ground stations for its BeiDou satellite system on disputed South China Sea reefs, according to state television.
The stations, connected to China’s land-based ship automatic identification system (AIS), are installed at lighthouses located on North Reef and Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taipei.
Meanwhile, Frank Kendall, President Joe Biden’s secretary of the air force, said last week that “the intelligence couldn’t be clearer. Whatever its actual intentions may be, I could not say. But China is preparing for a war, and specifically for a war with the United States.”

Months after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rose to power, the Philippines began pivoting again towards the United States, its traditional allies, after China reneged on its earlier promise to peacefully settle disputes in the strategic waterway.

Manila’s push against Beijing’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea intensified in August after Chinese Coast Guard ships used a water cannon and blocked Philippine resupply vessels from sailing towards an outpost in Ayungin Shoal.

Earlier this month, Marcos Jr. urged the Southeast Asian and other world leaders to work together to keep the Indo-Pacific safe, open and free from certain “hegemonic ambitions.”

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), meanwhile, said it hopes that the government can install more radars and deploy more vessels to help protect the country’s assets in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines has been relying on technology in the West Philippine Sea to counter the illegal activities of China, Asia’s largest economy, which has deployed a more massive fleet to claim nearly the entire South China Sea, said Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson of the PCG.

“Our strategic use of technology has allowed us to counter China’s action,” he said during the Social Good Summit.

“We have relied on underwater cameras to show not [just] China’s blatant disregard for international law, but also how they incur damage to the environment,” he said.