Philippines Defense chief: Marcos administration to boost patrols in South China Sea

Jose Faustino says nation must guard its “territorial integrity” against Chinese incursions.
By Jojo Riñoza for BenarNews
2022.07.21
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Philippines Defense chief: Marcos administration to boost patrols in South China Sea Acting Philippine Defense Secretary Jose Faustino (left) talks during a press conference at the Department of National Defense in Manila, July 21, 2022.
BenarNews

The Philippines is prepared to deploy more coast guard ships to protect its fishermen from harassment by Chinese vessels within Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, the new government’s acting defense secretary said Thursday.

Jose Faustino said he would follow pronouncements by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. about how his administration would approach the defense of Philippine territories and sovereignty in the contested waterway.

Faustino, during a press conference here, also became the first senior official from the Marcos government to speak out about Chinese ships and boats encroaching in the Philippine EEZ.

“We don’t have any direct instruction from him (yet) but I am being guided by his pronouncements – his strategic pronouncements – about how we deal with China, particularly on matters involving other avenues (to solve) that conflict we are discussing here (regarding) the West Philippine Sea,” Faustino, a former military chief, told reporters, using the Filipino name for territories claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea.

“Still, you know, our sovereignty is inviolable and we have to protect our territorial integrity,” he said, stressing that Philippine authorities had recently monitored Chinese ships entering into waters within Manila’s EEZ. 

Before taking office on June 30, Marcos promised he would assert a 2016 arbitration court ruling won by the Philippines against China over the South China Sea, an issue that his immediate predecessor was widely criticized and seen as weak in confronting it.

“Right now, we have sightings of some, particularly Chinese militia vessels and some Chinese coast guard in the contested areas,” Faustino said, adding that he had contacted the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, which can initiate a new round of diplomatic protests.  

Asked if the Marcos administration was prepared to increase patrols to protect its fishermen, he replied: “If we need to increase it, as the situation dictates, then we will do that.”

Faustino did not divulge details about the number of Chinese ships or when they were spotted.

In June, Philippine officials reported that 100 Chinese ships were seen swarming in the Julian Filipe Reef alone.

That same month, the outgoing Duterte administration announced it had filed a new diplomatic protest against China over the alleged return of a massive fleet around Whitsun Reef, in Manila’s EEZ, earlier this year.

It was the most recent in a series of diplomatic protests that began in March 2021 in response to intrusions in Philippine waters by Chinese boats, coast guard ships and militia-crewed vessels.

On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment. In the past, China’s foreign ministry has insisted that the entire South China Sea is Chinese territory. 

Arbitration anniversary

Faustino’s comments came nine days after the Philippines marked the sixth anniversary of the landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China’s expansive claims to the potentially oil-rich sea region.

To mark the occasion, Enrique A. Manalo, Marcos’ foreign secretary, said the court had “authoritatively ruled” that China’s claim of controlling nearly all of the South China Sea was baseless. 

“The findings are no longer within the reach of denial and rebuttal and are conclusive as they are indisputable,” Manalo said. “The award is final. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from law, history and our collective memories.”

Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, did not seek to make China follow the ruling and instead developed friendlier ties in exchange for Chinese investments. He pulled the Philippines away from its traditional ally, the United States.

Toward the end of his six-year term, however, Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020 that the ruling was considered “beyond compromise.” 

Marcos, like Duterte, wants the peaceful resolution of the maritime conflict, but also supports “rules-based international order in these [contested South China Sea] areas,” according to Faustino. 

“With or without the arbitral ruling, we will continue to protect what is ours,” Faustino said. 

The Philippines, he said, is thankful to the United States and other countries that support the Philippines in its dispute with China.

Responding to reports that Chinese ships issued warnings against Philippine ships transporting construction materials in the West Philippine Sea, Faustino said Filipino troops were accustomed to such actions by the Chinese.

Earlier this month, Philippine media reported that the China Coast Guard had shadowed two ships carrying supplies for the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II naval ship that serves as a Filipino outpost on the Second Thomas Shoal, and issued a warning to those serving on the ship.

Faustino said the Philippine military would not be deterred.

“This is our territory, it’s our right to be in this area, that’s our response to the challenges of China. … We also challenge the Chinese if they get near us. It’s like we’re exchanging challenges in these areas,” he said.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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