‘Philippines-US joint West Philippine Sea patrols should not offend China’

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
�Philippines-US joint West Philippine Sea patrols should not offend China�
Two FA-50PH aircraft of the Philippine Air Force take part in the joint Philippine-US maritime air patrols in the vicinity of Batanes and areas in the West Philippine Sea on Tuesday.
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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is just exercising its rights within its territorial waters, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday as it expressed belief that the ongoing joint naval and aerial patrols with the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) should not offend any party, including China.

AFP spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said the three-day maritime cooperative activity (MCA) scheduled from Nov. 21 to 23 is a peaceful patrol mission aimed at promoting a rules-based international order in the West Philippine Sea.

“It is not meant to escalate the tension, and all our actions and intentions are in accordance with international laws and conventions (UNCLOS, COLREGS, CUES),” Aguilar told reporters yesterday, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, respectively.

“It is a show of our firm resolve to assert our sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and commitment to uphold such conventions that promote peaceful resolution of maritime conflicts. We hope and expect China to do the same,” he added.

The AFP expects China to also abide by international conventions “because everything that we do is in accordance with international law,” according to Aguilar.

Specifically, he explained that the Philippines expects China to “also abide by international law and conventions that promote peaceful settlement of the conflict and the same convention that regulates their behavior at sea, so there should be no dangerous maneuver, there should be no harassment and there should be no use of water cannon.”

“On our end, we’re just following the conventions and laws that are in effect in the world, so I think there is no reason for any other party to take this activity against us or against the US because we are not violating any law here,” the AFP official said in Filipino and English.

“And if ever there is one party that will take action that can damage or will result in conflict, then it is their problem and it is they who are to be blamed,” he told Radyo 630 in a separate interview.

Asked what Philippine and US ships participating in the joint patrols would do if they are water-cannoned or laser-pointed at as what the China Coast Guard (CCG) did to previous resupply missions of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Philippine Navy to Ayungin Shoal, Aguilar responded that the AFP would not answer such speculative questions at the moment, “but we have rules of engagement to follow and the mission is very clear – peace and stability – and that is our commitment.”

He gave assurance that the joint maritime patrols would follow rules that suit the objective, considering that the Philippines wants a diplomatic and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Aguilar, however, explained that they also could not allow somebody to take advantage because “while we are going to the peaceful path, others would resort to aggressive action.”

“That is why we are just here to support, and the objective for this specific mission is very clear, that is about promoting rules-based international order, meaning we are following the international conventions, we are following the collision regulation, so that we can prevent accidents at sea and, at the same time, those that we call unplanned encounters, at least, we could properly carry out our mission, which is actually for the promotion of peace in the region that will benefit many countries,” he said.

The joint maritime and aerial patrols between the AFP and USINDOPACOM follow international conventions and international laws, which is why “we have the support of many other countries,” according to Aguilar.

He shared that there may be plans to conduct more similar activities in the future, depending on the outcome of the inaugural MCA which started in the waters off Batanes and will end in the West Philippine Sea today.

Considering that the peaceful joint activity follows the UNCLOS and is based on mutually agreed terms between the AFP and the US military, “we therefore expect all other parties to respect whatever we’re doing inside our exclusive (economic) zone, inside our maritime zone, so that we can peacefully perform our mission to the Filipino nation,” he said.

The military on Tuesday announced that three Philippine Navy vessels, two FA-50PH fighter jets and one A-29B Super Tucano would participate in the MCA while the US utilizes one littoral combat ship and one P8-A (Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft).

Safety, security pact

During the five-day port visit in the country, the PCG said it strengthened its maritime safety and security partnership with the Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA RI).

The partnership between the two coast guards took place during a bilateral meeting presided over by PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan and BAKAMLA RI head Vice Admiral Irvansyah, S.H., in Davao City last Tuesday.

The officials reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring maritime safety and maritime security and emphasized the importance of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Southeast Asian region.

Gavan acknowledged the long-standing relationship between the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as the strong bond between the PCG and BAKAMLA RI as two agencies with similar mandates and functions.

mmodore Algier Ricafrente, PCG Deputy Chief of Coast Guard Staff for international affairs, earlier said that during the BAKAMLA RI’s visit, they have lined up activities, including a tabletop search and rescue exercise, community relations and sports event.

“This is our first tabletop exercise that would be conducted in a room. We would be simulating scenarios in the event that these would be applied at sea,” Ricafrente said.

This is also in preparation for the PCG’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Coast Guard Forum next year.

Last Monday, the PCG welcomed the arrival of the BAKAMLA RI vessel, KN Gajah Laut 404, for a five-day port visit at Panacan Wharf, Davao City.

Christmas convoy

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Tolentino has appealed to defense authorities to allow the Christmas convoy proposed by a civilian group to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Tolentino made the remark yesterday in reaction to the statement of National Security Council (NSC) director general Jonathan Malaya dissuading the civilian group Atin Ito! from its planned civilian convoy to the grounded wartime ship. – Evelyn Macairan, Marc Jayson Cayabyab

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