EDITORIAL - Credible self-defense capability

The Philippine Star

After six years, it was refreshing to see a Philippine president again visiting the United States, and reaffirming with his US counterpart the long-standing alliance between the two countries. President Marcos called the US a “partner, friend and ally” while President Joe Biden reiterated his country’s “ironclad” commitment to come to the defense of the Philippines.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, which President Marcos addressed during his working visit. His presence at the UNGA was also a marked departure from the years when the Philippine president regularly lambasted UN bodies and the European Union for raising human rights issues, although Rodrigo Duterte also faced the UNGA once, in a live-streamed address during the pandemic lockdowns last year.

Earlier, President Marcos also said he could not see a future for the Philippines without the US as a partner. It remains to be seen how this will impact the Philippines’ relations with China, which has refused to acknowledge a 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated Beijing’s entire nine-dash-line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.

At the same time, President Marcos has also echoed Duterte’s avowed “independent” foreign policy, with the Philippines being “a friend to all and enemy to none.” China will remain an important partner of the Philippines in many aspects, according to President Marcos.

The US has said it will honor its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, under which the two countries are committed to come to each other’s defense in case of external attack. Alliances based on shared values are the most durable, and it’s good to know that the Philippines can count on friends in times of need.

Even as the country strengthens security alliances, however, the Philippines must continue efforts to attain credible self-defense capability. Duterte did much during his presidency along this line. The requirements of the pandemic response, however, slowed down the military modernization program, and the continuing public health crisis will remain a funding priority.

But the country can learn from its neighbors in responding to Chinese assertive actions in large areas of the West Philippine Sea. Under President Joko Widodo, for example, Indonesia has blown up and sunk, seized and destroyed hundreds of foreign vessels entering its maritime exclusive economic zone. It has confronted Chinese coast guard vessels and is drilling for oil and natural gas north of the Natuna Islands – an area that China is claiming as part of its territory.

Indonesia can do this because it has the capability, even if it still pales against that of China. Any country that wants to protect its territory and uphold its sovereign rights must have the credible capability to do so, even without help from allies.



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