May 2, 2023
MANILA — The Philippines will not let itself become a “staging post” for the military activities of any foreign country in the South China Sea, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized on Sunday amid the simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait between the United States and China.
Speaking with reporters during his flight to the US capital, the President added that he had directed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to prepare a map of the country’s fishing grounds following the near-collision between a Chinese ship and a PCG patrol vessel.
He said he had already spoken with a Chinese official, whom he did not identify, about the April 23 incident near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, the latest in a string of China’s intimidation of Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea.
“The goal of the Philippines is simple: We work for peace,” Marcos told journalists on the eve of his meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House.
“We’ll not encourage any provocative action by any country that will involve the Philippines. We will not allow that to happen. We will not allow the Philippines to be used as a staging post for any kind of military action,” he pointed out.
Marcos’ five-day working visit to Washington will be the first trip of any Philippine leader to America’s seat of power in more than a decade.
It will be the second meeting between the two leaders after they briefly met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2022.
The United States earlier called on China to stop “provocative and unsafe conduct” in the contested South China Sea following the near-collision incident last April 23.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian earlier claimed that the United States would utilize the new sites under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the Philippines to “interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait.”
However, Marcos had said that the four new locations that US troops may access in the Philippines under Edca would be used only for the “defense of our territory.”
Beijing had stirred up hostilities in the area as it made known its intention to take back Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that the communist country had been claiming as its own, even by force if necessary.
Marcos reiterated that the Philippines was just after the safety of its citizens who might be displaced by the military tension in Taiwan.
Huang earlier warned that the welfare of more than 150,000 Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan might be jeopardized if the Philippines refused to “unequivocally oppose” the island nation’s independence.
“Maintaining that peace there, I think, that’s… the best role that we can play,” Marcos said.
“And I think the best move for us is to stay within Asean, keep Asean solid, strong, and united,” he said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
During his meeting with the Chinese official, the president said he told him that he did not want any untoward incident involving Chinese and Philippine vessels to happen.
The close call that the PCG’s BRP Malapascua had with a Chinese Coast Guard ship on April 23 was “a little more dangerous,” according to Marcos.
“They really nearly collided and that can cause casualties on both sides,” the president said. “And that’s exactly what we want to avoid. That’s why I asked for the creation of a high-level communication (between our countries).”
He urged China to follow through on his agreement with President Xi Jinping, reached earlier this year in Beijing, to set up a “direct communication mechanism” on issues involving overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, he said, is still waiting for China to send its team to the negotiating table.
“The Philippine side has already done it. We already have a team. We have already submitted the names, even the telephone numbers, of these people. We’re still waiting for the counterpart of our team from China,” Marcos noted.
In addition, he said he had discussed the issue of fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the disputed South China Sea.
The concerns of Filipino fishermen regarding the fishing area should be the “first priority for now,” the president maintained.
“I’ve asked the Coast Guard and the DFA to put together perhaps a map of these fishing grounds that we can really say belong to the Philippines and we’ll see what they (China) say when we give them our proposal,” he said.
“I mean, of course, the overall priority is to safeguard our maritime territory. But when you go down into the details, the most immediate, let’s say, concern, are the fishing rights,” he said. “So that’s what we have to do. That’s what we have to decide [on].”
According to the president, the Chinese official agreed to discuss the matter in a future meeting.