Philippines, Australia eye joint West Philippine Sea patrols

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
Philippines, Australia eye joint West Philippine Sea patrols
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, who is concurrent defense minister, pays a courtesy call on President Marcos at Malacañang yesterday.
STAR / File

Joint patrols with US on planning stage

MANILA, Philippines — Australia and the Philippines are in talks for launching joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea after Australian Deputy Prime Minister and defense chief Richard Marles arrived in Manila yesterday to seek deeper security relations between the two countries.

At a joint press briefing with Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Marles said the Philippines and Australia are “looking at ways in which we can pursue joint patrols together in the South China Sea and looking at ways in which we can do more exercises together.”

He said such engagements form part of efforts to deepen defense relations wherein both countries can work together and “look at ways in which we can deepen the opportunities where Filipino servicemen and women can work alongside Australian servicemen.”

Welcoming Marles to the country, Galvez said: “Our two nations look forward to elevating our partnership as agreed by the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last November.”

“We also agreed to explore other possible areas of cooperation while reaffirming that counterterrorism and maritime security remain as the core pillars of our nations’ bilateral defense relations,” said Galvez.

Marles noted that Australia is “looking at ways in which we can do more exercises together.”

He said that Australia, as an observer, is sending one of the largest contingents to this year’s Balikatan exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and US military forces.

The Australian defense chief underscored how the Philippines and Australia are friends and that people-to-people connections run deep, considering that there are some 400,000 Filipinos in Australia.

“Today, I think Australia and the Philippines have a great strategic alignment than we’ve had in any alignments in our respective histories,” he said, pointing out that both the Philippines and Australia are allies of the US.

Marles said both the Philippines and Australia are completely committed to a global rules-based order that is “deeply connected to our respective national interests that the rules of the road and bodies of water such as the South China Sea, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation, freedom of overfly, all of these principles are completely central to both countries’ national interests and collective security.”

Regional support

Australia said it is committed to working with the Philippines and Thailand in support of a stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at its core.

“I look forward to the opportunity to deepen Australia’s engagement with the Philippines and Thailand, including through our important cooperation on defense and security,” affirmed Marles, who is set to visit Bangkok after his meetings with Marcos and other government officials in Manila.

Meanwhile, the Australian Defense Department brushed aside fears arising from the Australia, US and United Kingdom (AUKUS) Trilateral Security Partnership Agreement, saying it is not about nuclear weapons.

The Philippines had expressed support for the establishment of the enhanced trilateral security alliance to work together to safeguard peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and boost security deterrence against China in the region.

Manila believed the AUKUS will further enhance Australia’s military capacity with its proximity in Southeast Asia to respond quickly to threats and challenges in the region.

“We reaffirm the need to continue working together towards a common goal of maintaining a free, open and a secure Indo Pacific Region,” Galvez said.

“The Philippines also reiterated its appreciation to Australia for its consistent support to the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Award and at the same time its continued support during the COVID pandemic.”

Defense commitments

Yesterday, Galvez also spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III about “concerning developments” in the South China Sea, which the Pentagon said was an opportunity for Washington to reaffirm its commitment to bolster the Philippines defense capabilities and capacity to resist coercion.

In a readout, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Austin and Galvez discussed the incident in which the China Coast Guard (CCG) directed a military-grade laser at the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel “lawfully operating” around Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

“Secretary Austin underscored the United States’ commitment to supporting the lawful rights and operations of the Philippines in the South China Sea, including around the Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal), which the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal unequivocally ruled is a part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” Ryder said.

The US defense chief reiterated that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft and public vessels, including those of its Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Austin’s reiteration of US obligation under the MDT rejected China’s criticism against Washington for repeatedly invoking the MDT in an attempt to “intimidate” Beijing.

During the call, Austin and Galvez discussed proposals to deepen operational cooperation and enhance the US and the Philippines’ shared security, including the recent decision to resume combined maritime activities in the South China Sea.

“Secretary Austin reaffirmed the department’s commitment to bolstering the Philippines’ defense capabilities and capacity to resist coercion as the allies develop a Security Sector Assistance Roadmap,” Ryder added.

The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest with the Chinese government following China’s dangerous maneuvers and use of military-grade laser against the PCG crew and ship on a resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal.

The actions of Chinese vessels had been described by the US as “provocative and unsafe.”

Despite China’s laser use against the Philippine ship and daily incidents of Chinese harassment and land reclamation in Philippine waters, Beijing described the overall situation in Ayungin Shoal as “calm,” highlighting the “professional” and “restrained” action of its coast guard.

Austin and Galvez also discussed opportunities to expand security cooperation with like-minded nations, such as Japan, that seek to uphold the rules-based international order and shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Ryder said Galvez and Austin concluded the call by committing to advance an ambitious set of initiatives leading up to the 2+2 Ministerial in Washington this spring – which begins in late March – as the US and the Philippines rapidly modernize alliance cooperation.

The US and the Philippines announced last Feb. 2 an expansion of America’s military presence in the Southeast Asian country, with US forces granted access to four more military camps, effectively giving Washington new ground to ramp up deterrence against China.

The agreement between the longtime allies was made public during the visit of Austin, who has led efforts to strengthen US security alliances in Asia in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness toward Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Phl defends security arrangements

In an interview on DW News Asia last Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo defended the Philippines’ military arrangements with the US.

Manalo said that many of the operations with the US are aimed at responding to natural disasters and training in case of security threats.

This defense agreement with Washington includes the granting of more access to Philippine bases and joint patrols in the South China Sea, he said.

“Every country in the region (is) faced with the growing US-China rivalry. Actually, what these arrangements we have with the United States are really part of our existing treaty – the Mutual Defense Treaty – and more specifically the Visiting Forces Agreements,” said Manalo.

“But many of these operations are really aimed at improving our humanitarian disasters or natural disasters (response) aside from perhaps also serving, if necessary, training in case we run any security threats,” he explained, when asked about the Philippine position on balancing US-China ties.

Marcos had articulated that the Philippines will be a “friend to all and an enemy to none.”

Manalo said the Philippines is committed to peacefully resolving differences with China, noting extensive relations with China, especially on the economic front.

“Nevertheless, we do have differences there (maritime borders). So, while we wish to enhance our economic ties, we also need to address the challenges we face in the South China Sea,” he said. – Pia Lee-Brago

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with