A brave new Philippines

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Strength is standing your ground. Strength is restraint.

A brave new Philippines is emerging. Gone is the era of a cowardice government when its Chief Executive trembled at the very shadow of Xi Jinping. So weak-willed and submissive was former president Rodrigo Duterte towards Xi that he was willing to give in to his many demands, however treasonous. Among these demands were not to invoke the legally binding decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled in the Philippines’ favor in the maritime dispute involving both countries. Duterte belittled The Hague ruling, calling it “just a piece of paper.” He parroted the words of the Chinese ambassador. It gave insight on who the former president reported to.

Today, President Marcos is standing his ground. He minced no words at the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, where he condemned China’s illegal grab and militarization of the West Philippine Sea. He subsequently declared that not a single inch of sovereign Philippine territory will be subsumed by any nation. Neither would he allow the Philippines to be bullied, taunted or intimidated. Marcos acknowledged the validity of Philippines’ victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration and vowed to enforce it. His declarations came at a time of intense intimidation from China.

The run-in between the Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards in Bajo de Masinloc last April 30 was a painful sight to behold. The world watched as Chinese coast guards attacked with water cannons the Philippine BRP Bagacay and a vessel owned by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Using powerful jet streams, the Chinese attempted to destroy the communication and navigational equipment of the Philippine ships. It was a hostile act that endangered Filipino sailors. Rather than respond tit-for-tat, President Marcos issued orders to stand down. Although seen by many as passive, it was the correct move for three reasons.

First, the Chinese are intentionally taunting the Philippines to elicit an aggressive reaction. An aggressive reaction is exactly what Beijing needs to justify an escalation. The Philippines should not fall into this Chinese trap.

Second, every time the Philippines changes its actions or responses, the Chinese escalate their posture by several fold. For instance, when the Philippines adds two coast guard vessels to patrol the waters, the Chinese will add six. The Philippines should not give reason for escalation as its aim is to ease tensions.

Third, the Philippines filed 153 diplomatic protests over China’s bad behavior since the start of Marcos’ presidency. Through it all, the Philippines maintained its moral high ground and always behaved in accordance with international laws. This reputation will be compromised if it acts in the same manner as its tormentor. It will make us no different from the barbaric communist Chinese.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio agrees with the decision not to fight fire with fire. The correct response, said Carpio, is to file a case before ITLOS. The fight will be fought on a level playing field in the court of law.

The Chinese can only intimidate to a certain point. The moment there is a single Filipino fatality, the ironclad Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines becomes effective and the Chinese will have to face the Philippines, the US and the axis of like-minded nations in combat. This is a situation the Chinese cannot afford at this time.

A stronger Philippines

It takes an existential crisis to bring out the best in a country. The Philippines is growing in resolve and military capability.

Earlier this month, President Marcos green-lit a $35-billion budget to modernize the Philippine Armed Forces. The acquisition of a lengthy wish list of weapons was approved to bolster the military’s capabilities over the next decade.

This comes on top of the assistance the Philippines is receiving from like-minded friends, all of whom condemn China’s hegemonic ambitions.

Last month, the Philippines received the first batch of Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missiles from India. This is the first of three missile systems, each rigged with two launchers, a radar and a command center.

Last November, a new defense cooperation framework was signed between Japan and the Philippines called the Official Security Assistance. Its objective is to deepen defense and security cooperation, including technology and hardware transfers. As a start, Japan is providing the Philippines with four air surveillance radars and 12 vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard, among others.

The US positioned its ground-based Typhon mid-range missile system in a military base in Luzon. The Typhon is capable of striking targets up to 1,600 kilometers in distance. The Taiwan Strait and Fujian province are well within range. This follows Balikatan 2024, the largest joint military exercise with 17,000 fighters, including soldiers from Australia and France. Fourteen like-minded countries observed the exercise.

In addition, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, a light multiple rocket launcher, was recently acquired by the Philippine Armed Forces. This compliments the SSM-700K C-Star ship-launched sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missile.

And then there is the Trilateral Partnership between the US, Japan and the Philippines. The Philippines’ trilateral partners have committed to investment some $100 billion into the country over the next five years. Investments will come in the form of physical and digital infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing, defense hardware, mining, energy and advanced technologies.

Meanwhile, a bill was filed in the US Senate to grant the Philippines $2.5 billion over the next five years and another $2.5 billion thereafter to modernize the armed forces. A stronger Philippines means a stronger line of defense for a free and open Indo Pacific.

All these compliment the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the US and defense alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Firm resistance, strategic restraint and military fortification characterizes the new Philippines as it bravely faces China.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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