President’s trip to US shows Philippines has ‘powerful friends’: Expert

Yet China is still “expected” to continue testing the Philippines’ resolve in defending its maritime claims, said Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines-Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

Frances Mangosing, Jerome Aning

Frances Mangosing, Jerome Aning

Philippine Daily Inquirer


NEW SEA ASSETS Two Fast Attack Interdiction Craft platforms of the Philippine Navy are christened during a ceremony at Naval Station Pascual Ledesma in Cavite City on Monday. These new patrol assets from Israel—BRP Gener Tinangag (PG 903) and BRP Domingo Deluana (PG 905 —were named after Philippine Marines Corps heroes. INQUIRER PHOTO / RICHARD A. REYES

May 9, 2023

MANILA – The reaffirmation of Manila’s ties with Washington during President Marcos’ visit to the United States last week sends a “stronger message” to China that the Philippines has “powerful friends” it could count on, a maritime law expert said at a government briefing on Monday.

“Of course, China will be concerned because they will see that we are not just a small country, but a country with many powerful friends. And, hopefully, because of that, they might think a bit that we cannot just be cast aside, especially when it comes to the West Philippine Sea,” lawyer Jay Batongbacal said at the Laging Handa public briefing.

Yet China is still “expected” to continue testing the Philippines’ resolve in defending its maritime claims, said Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines-Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

“But because the message has become stronger that we have powerful friends, maybe they will change a little in their attitude and position when it comes to us,” he said.

“They will see that they should not ignore us, they should really treat us seriously when it comes [to the West Philippine Sea],” he added.

According to Batongbacal, the Philippines is now “catching up” on key areas in its security and defense, including its approval of more sites for US forces in line with Manila’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with Washington.

He hoped that “China will see that it really has to change its policies and let [Filipino fishermen] peacefully fish in our own waters. That’s very important for us which is why it is good that we got assurances because we can really stand [up] to our [sovereign]… and legal rights there [in] the West Philippine Sea.”

Senate support
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has committed legislative support to procure “more ships and more planes” for the Philippine Navy as part of the military’s modernization program, amid renewed tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.

“We commit to pursue Horizon 2 and Horizon 3 projects,” Zubiri said at the christening on Monday of two brand-new Acero-class patrol gunboats built by Israel Shipyards Ltd.

He was referring to the two of three stages of the modernization or capability upgrade program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“All the 24 senators are 101 percent committed to support the modernization of the Navy, particularly for more ships, more planes. We’re looking at antisubmarine planes… and warships, larger base ships for the West Philippine Sea,” the Senate leader said. “We’re ready to fund this.”

Zubiri said he had scheduled a meeting with Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman next week to discuss several issues, including the procurement plans for the Horizon 2 and 3 projects to be included in the national budget.

STRONGER TIES President Marcos and US President Joe Biden reaffirm the alliance between the Philippines and the United States during their meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1. —MALACAÑANG PHOTO

He also said the senators would ask the help of the Israeli government to supply the Philippines with armaments and missile systems. “What good is a brand-new boat without weapons? We are pushing for more budget for surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-ship missiles and other armaments that can be utilized by our Navy assets.”

‘Bully’ vessel
Zubiri paid tribute to the Navy’s “selfless service to the country, … especially in these times of brewing conflict in our seas.”

He also recalled an incident last year when a “foreign nation” forcibly seized a rocket debris, apparently from China, being towed by the Navy off Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. “I was aghast and I told myself this must be exposed to the world… to show the bravery of the men and women of our Navy. They were just on a rubber boat going up against a foreign vessel, which was a bully,” he said.

He said he had taken up with the President the proposed submarine programs for a more capable Navy. The Philippines is currently looking at offers from France, South Korea and Spain to fulfill the Navy’s requirements for two diesel-electric submarines, he said.

In November last year, the Department of National Defense briefed lawmakers that it needed almost P300 billion to fund the backlog in the military’s modernization program.

The military failed to meet its Horizon 2 target acquisitions between 2018 and 2022. It entered the third stage or Horizon 3 this year, which should be ideally completed by 2028.

‘Credible defense posture’
Zubiri said his colleagues were “willing to make adjustments… to push for our advocacy for a more modern Navy,” in case the modernization projects would not be accommodated in the budget.

“We really need a minimum credible defense posture. This means we need to have equipment that can credibly defend our sovereignty not only in the West Philippine Sea but also due to internal factors,” he said.

Zubiri said the Senate was also hoping to pass the proposed Philippine Defense Industry Development Act “in a year’s time,” to give “preferential contracts” to companies in the defense sector that were willing to build plants for manufacturing arms, aircraft and vessels.

Such a contract was required in the P10-billion acquisition of nine Shaldag Mk. V fast-attack interdiction craft from Israel Shipyards.

Up to three Acero-class boats are expected to be built in the Philippines also as part of the contract, after the company upgraded the shipbuilding center at the naval base in Cavite City. INQ

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