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U.S. SET TO EXPAND FORCES IN PHL AS TENSIONS MOUNT; AFP acquiring more anti-submarine aircraft for West Phl Sea

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/WASHINGTON – Amidst escalating tensions in South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, the American military is ready to expand further its presence in the Philippines after signaling more military activities in the country in keeping with the mutual defense agreement of the two countries and their enhanced defense cooperation agreement (EDCA).
This as the Philippine military is eyeing to acquire more anti-submarine aircraft to detect submarines that encroach into the country’s territory and 200-mile exclusive economic zone from its nearest coast and boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines capabilities to protect and defend its areas of responsibilities.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, a former Armed Forces chief of staff, confirmed for one in a statement that more joint patrols, military exercises and other activities with the US with other allied countries.
“Our joint patrols with the United States and potential future activities with other allied countries shows our mutual commitment to a rules-based international order and for promoting peace and stability of the region,” Ano said.
China immediately countered the US-Philippines joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea with its own war drills in South China Sea even as it continue to shadow US and Philippine vessels in the region.

Visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo, for one, sought support of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for the purchase by the Philippine Navy of Indonesian-made anti-submarine aircraft during their bilateral talk in Malacanang.
Marcos and Widodo discussed a range of regional issues, including developments in the South China Sea and closer cooperation among member states of the Southeast Asian bloc during their talks.
Widodo later said in a television joint press conference after his meeting with Marcos that they had reaffirmed and agreed to strengthen defense cooperation and existing agreements on border cooperation as they asserted the need to uphold international law amid threats of regional instability .

“We agreed to…expedite revision of joint border patrol and crossing agreements, also to strengthen the defense cooperation including on military hardware,” Widodo said, stressing on “the importance of accelerating the revisions of the border patrol agreement and border crossing agreement” signed by both countries in 1975.

“Regarding our region, we agree on the importance […] for ASEAN to continue to uphold the principles of international law and become a positive force for peace, stability and prosperity,” Widodo said.

“President Widodo and I had a fruitful and honest discussion on regional events of mutual interest, such as the developments in the South China Sea and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) cooperation and initiatives,” Marcos said in a speech.

Marcos and Widodo affirmed the universality of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which lays down rules governing all uses of the seas and the oceans

During their bilateral meeting at Malacañan Palace in Manila, Marcos and Widodo acknowledged that complying with the UNCLOS is crucial to maintain peace and stability in the oceans and the seas, including the SCS.

“President Widodo and I held a fruitful and honest discussion on regional events of mutual interest, such as the developments in the South China Sea and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) cooperation and initiatives,” Marcos said in a joint statement delivered after his bilateral meeting with Widodo.

“The Philippines and Indonesia affirmed our insistence on the universality of UNCLOS, which sets out the legal framework that governs all activities in the oceans and in the seas,” he added.

Widodo said he and Marcos also emphasized the need to strengthen ASEAN Unity and Centrality, as well as to uphold the principles of international law and become a “positive force for peace, sustainability and prosperity.”

In 2023, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it would deploy an anti-submarine helicopter in the West Philippine Sea as maritime tensions continue to broil between the Philippines and China.

The AFP has procured two anti-submarine helicopters from United Kingdom, including an AW159 Wildcat chopper, which can detect and strike any submarine illegally entering Philippine waters.

The Philippines plans to procure four more anti-submarine choppers in the coming years, AFP officials had said.

Malacañang has yet to release Marcos Jr.’s response to Widodo’s proposal.

Widodo also urged the Philippines to further strengthen its partnerships with Indonesia, especially in the fields of security and economy.

China lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. China’s claims of sovereignty overlap territorial waters claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis. China has rejected that ruling.

On January 5, a United States carrier strike group led by USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) docked in the Philippines for a scheduled port call following a two-day maritime cooperative activity with the country in the South China Sea.
The Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1 is currently deployed to US 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“It is a pleasure for the Carrier Strike Group to visit the Republic of Philippines. The US and the Philippines are steadfast friends, partners in prosperity, and ironclad allies,” said Rear Adm. Carlos Sardiello, commander of CSG-1.

“Our two countries share democratic values, close cultural ties and our alliance has stood strong for over 72 years. As our oldest treaty ally in East Asia, the Philippines has shown their unwavering commitment in helping secure a free, open, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” he added.

Together with the USS Carl Vinson were embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Kidd (DDG 100) and USS Sterett (DDG 104).

The US Department of Defense said this visit marks an additional demonstration of the US-Philippines alliance and Washington DC’s broader commitment to the region.
The maritime cooperative activities (MCA) between the Philippines and the United States, done within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in accordance with international law, is not a provocative military activity, Año stressed.
The Philippines is exercising its sovereign right to engage in such activities, Año said, noting that the exercises are aimed at enhancing the country’s maritime capabilities and interoperability to ensure security and stability in the region.
“The Chinese spokesman referred to these activities as ‘provocative military activities’ and deemed them as ‘irresponsible.’ We wish to clarify that the MCA between the Philippines and the United States were clearly conducted within our EEZ and are consistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), so how can they be deemed provocative?” he said.

The second iteration of the MCA with the US took place at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) last Jan. 3 to 4, barely two months after the first one held last Nov. 21 to 23, 2023.

Año said the MCA was also a show of the development of a “world-class Navy and Armed Forces” capable of carrying out the mandate to defend the country’s territorial integrity and maritime rights in the WPS.

“The joint patrol emphasizes our ability to work seamlessly together to ensure the readiness of our joint forces to address evolving security challenges. Our joint patrols with the United States and potential future activities with other allied countries show our mutual commitment to a rules-based international order and for promoting peace and stability of the region,” he said.

Año also maintained that the Philippines remains open to diplomatic discussions with China and reaffirms its commitment to fostering good relations with all nations.

“We believe that through peaceful dialogue and adherence to international law, we can achieve a resolution that serves the best interests of all parties involved in the region,” he added.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy confirmed that a commercial tanker has brought clean fuel from a military facility in Pearl Harbor to a commercial storage facility at Subic Bay.
“We can confirm that the Yosemite Trader, a commercial tanker, is currently in the vicinity of Subic Bay, Philippines in order to transfer clean fuel from the U.S. military facility at Red Hill, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to a commercial storage facility at Subic Bay,” US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said in a statement.

The spokesperson added: “This is one of multiple shipments of safe, clean fuel from the Red Hill facility to other locations in the Pacific. All arrangements for the transfer and storage of this fuel were made through the proper channels, using established logistics contracts with Philippine commercial entities.”