MANILA, Philippines (Updated 6:10 p.m., May 24) — India is open to collaborating with the Philippines to boost its military systems as well as the capabilities of its armed forces, its envoy said.
Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran paid presumptive president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. a courtesy call on Monday, where plans to collaborate on agriculture, health, financial, and digital governance along with military capacity building were discussed.
"India would like to work with the Philippines towards capacity-building and capability development of the Philippines armed forces," Kumaran told reporters on Monday.
Kumaran emphasized that the India-Philippine ties are anchored on developmental partnership and on ties in national security, which includes defense, maritime security, and cybersecurity.
In January, the Philippines locked a deal to get a $375-million anti-ship missile system from India.
The deal is a change as the Philippines has often looked to the United States — which even the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration noted "has long been the major supplier of defense equipment to the Philippines" — for its equipment.
The acquisition of the missile system comes as the country is on a $5.6-billion effort to modernize the Philippine military.
The country’s armed forces told Philstar.com in an online message that its weaponry, despite coming from different suppliers now, would be easily incorporated together for use through its Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance system.
"We have C4ISTAR to integrate all the [systems] such as radars, air defense missiles, anti-ship missiles and other systems," said Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
C4ISTAR is a command and control center that helps interoperability, managing programs of air forces while allowing it to communicate with troops on ground.
Chester Cabalza, a security anthropologist from the University of the Philippines, told Philstar.com that the Philippines acquiring the BrahMos supersonic missile is already a sign of Manila and New Delhi’s “improving strategic partnership.”
What would a ‘security collaboration’ with India mean?
India’s envoy to Manila Kumaran said New Delhi is ready to "work closely with the Philippine armed forces and the Department of National Defense to take forward this partnership in the new administration."
Kumaran said the country’s military modernization program would also provide Indian companies a trade opportunity.
Cabalza viewed the improving strategic relations of the two Asian countries positively, emphasizing the “economic and strategic” importance of India to the Philippines.
"India is a regional and naval power that can contain China’s rising influence in the South China Sea. It is part of the newly formed Indo-Pacific Region and [an] active member of the Quad," Cabalza said. referring to the security dialogue that also includes the US, Australia and Japan.
India has a Himalayan border dispute with China. Asked by reporters if it was brought up given that Marcos Jr. is expected to continue President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy, Kumaran said that it was not discussed during the courtesy call and said they focused on bilateral relations.
Ambassador Kumaran says China was not discussed during the call. He says the talk was focused on bilateral relations.— Kristine Patag (@kristinepatag) May 23, 2022
CONTEXT: Marcos is widely seen as another China-friendly leader. @PhilstarNews
Cabalza said the potential partnership with India on developing the Philippine’s military capabilities "would certainly lessen Beijing’s suspicion of Washington’s encirclement in the contested South China Sea."
"China would be more comfortable with the Philippines to have India as its strategic partner in its security stances than the US given that both are Asian naval powers of equal footing," Cabalza said.
The security anthropologist said China would most likely be more hostile to Manila if its foreign policy is to bandwagon with the US.
Aside from Kumaran, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko, South Korean Ambassador Kim Inchul, and US Chargé d’Affaires Heather Variava also paid Marcos Jr. a courtesy call on Monday.
Variava, however, did not speak to reporters after meeting with the presumptive president-elect due to a prior engagement.
Fourth diplomat to meet Marcos today is U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Heather Variava.— Kristine Patag (@kristinepatag) May 23, 2022
After the courtesy call, BBM Media Office says CDA Variava had to leave soon due to prior engagement. @PhilstarNews
"Marcos Jr. should play [his cards well] in his effort to build an independent foreign policy because the US and China will still [be] competing for hegemony in the region," Cabalza said.
"He has to seriously engage with India while Russia, another major power, has to manage its war with Ukraine."
While the canvassing of votes for the president and vice president of both chambers of Congress will begin on Tuesday at 10 a.m., the partial and unofficial tally of votes show Marcos Jr. leading candidates for the country’s top post by a wide margin of 16 million. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag and Xave Gregorio