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Philippines: No involvement in joint patrols in disputed seas

Ensign Jeremy Brooks communicates as the conning officer aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) during a signaling exercise with the Royal Malaysian Navy patrol vessel KD Pahang (172) in the South China Sea. File/US Navy/Paul Kelly

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang declared yesterday that it has nothing to do with the planned joint naval exercises of allies US, Japan and India in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

“The reported joint naval exercises near the South China Sea, however, does not involve the Philippines in any way. It will, thus, be speculative on its possible impact to the concerns regarding the South China Sea,” said Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.  

Coloma issued an official statement regarding the report, saying that deterrence against aggressive actions, not rising tensions, is the country’s primary concern.  

“The Philippines believes that regional stability is achieved when the rule of law is upheld. Hence, we have joined cause with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in advocating the adoption of a legally binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea,” Coloma stressed.

The 10-member ASEAN have been divided over the disputed Spratlys.

Last week though, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the joint patrol in the West Philippine Sea underscores the international community’s concern for unrestricted global commerce and peace in the region.

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This was the position taken by Malacañang following reports the three countries will conduct joint naval exercises in the waters being disputed by Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia against the bullying and encroachments of giant Beijing.

“This emphasizes the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea,” presidential spokesman Lacierda said when asked how would this affect Manila’s already-tense relations with China.

“It is also a recognition by the community of nations of the importance of global commerce and consequent necessity of maintaining stability in the area,” the Palace official explained further.

The coming joint exercises are reportedly part of an annual event between the US and Indian naval forces since 2014 and have expanded to include Japan, which showed the closer cooperation between the three countries that also share concern about China’s growing military presence in the region.

US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris didn’t disclose the location of the exercises, which they called Malabar. The Indian navy said Japan would participate, but declined to confirm where the event would occur.

Washington has issued a warning to China following reports that five Chinese ships have surrounded and taken over a Philippine-held atoll, where they even prevented local fishermen from fishing.

Beijing said the Chinese ships have left the area.

US warships and aircraft have undertaken a series of operations in the disputed waters to challenge Beijing’s moves and American officials are seeking to stitch Asian military powers into closer collaboration.

In recent statements, US officials have prodded India to join its security operations, including patrols that New Delhi has so far been reluctant to undertake.

Harris said that, “on the security front, we need India’s leadership in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”

In a veiled reference to efforts aimed at countering China’s activities, Harris proposed a four-way security dialogue among India, Japan, Australia and the US to “amplify the message that we are united behind the international rules-based order.” - With Ben Serrano

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