LRay hopes PBBM US trip to bolster talks on joint maritime patrols

May 1, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 227 views

NATIONAL Unity Party (NUP) president and Camarines Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte on Monday said he believes that in light of what Filipino authorities have lately blasted as the “aggressive tactics” and “dangerous maneuvers” of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), Manila needs to double down on plans for joint maritime patrols with the United States (US) and other allies in the hope of putting a stop to the relentless intrusions by China into Philippine territory.

Villafuerte is hoping that, for starters, President Marcos’ official working visit this week to Washington DC, which is topped by a summit with American President Joe Biden – could “lead soon enough to a final agreement on joint patrols not only with the US but with our other allies as well such as Japan and Australia” that are apparently open to such a joint operation in the WPS.

The WPS is the portion of the South China Sea (SCS) that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in the Netherlands declared in 2016 to be part of Philippine territory and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“With Beijing ignoring time and again the hundreds of diplomatic protests that have been filed by Manila over the nonstop intrusions of Chinese vessels into the WPS, I believe the best approach we can take at this point to put an end to such bullying tactics is for us to double down on plans for joint patrols in the disputed waterway with the US and other allies like Japan and Australia that seem open to such a border security arrangement,” Villafuerte said.

More than 200 diplomatic protests have reportedly been lodged by Manila against Beijing in recent years.

“That the incessant harassment of Philippine vessels in our very own territory [has] been increasing despite the series of official engagements between Beijing and Manila, ostensibly in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to this territorial dispute, only illustrates,” he said, “that the Philippine government’s filing of diplomatic protests over and over against such Chinese bullying is a futile approach.”

Villafuerte, who represents the second district of CamSur in the House of Representatives, bewailed that, “China has repeatedly made a mockery of its diplomatic talks and avowed commitments with the Philippines on pursuing a peaceful settlement of the conflict, as such formal engagements this year have only become a prelude to more, instead of less, Chinese intrusions into our territorial waters and EEZ.”

“The asymmetry between Beijing’s rhetoric and action on this thorny territorial issue is as clear as day,” he said, pointing out that the trio of Manila-Beijing diplomatic engagements this year had been followed by even more “intense bullying tactics” by China in the WPS.

In President Marcos’ visit to China last January, Villafuerte said that the Chief Executive and Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed to address the maritime issues “through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation.”

However, a month later, on Feb. 6, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel 5205 had trained a military-grade laser light on BRP Malapascua, which was on a resupply mission to the Ayungin Shoal in the WPS, temporarily blinding the crew of the Philippine coast guard boat, Villafuerte said.

Then a month ago, he said, 42 Chinese vessels were spotted by the PCG intruding into the WPS, right after the conclusion in Manila of the 7th Bilateral Consultations Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea (SCS) last March 24 that involved top Chinese and DFA officials.

The CamSur solon then noted that after President Marcos’ talks in Manila a week ago with then-visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Qun Gang on establishing more “lines of communications” to immediately resolve territorial conflicts, over 100 Chinese vessels were reported intruding into and doing “illegal actions” in the WPS, including a near-collision between a CCG ship and a PCG patrol boat with journalists onboard.

“Given that we have no capability at this point to fight on our own a military superpower like China, the best way for us moving forward is to foster border security arrangements with our key allies – the US, Japan, Australia, and our Southeast Asian neighbors, among others – to start making Beijing feel it can no longer continue with its bullying ways,” he added.

With defense and security along with economic issues the top concerns in President Marcos’ US visit, Villafuerte is hoping that “our Chief Executive’s series of meetings with American officials led by President Biden himself would include top-level discussions on the planned joint maritime patrols with the US and with Manila’s other allies that similarly want, like the Philippines, to keep the WPS as a zone of ‘peace, security, stability and prosperity.’”

Villafuerte issued this statement on Monday after more than a hundred Chinese vessels, including CCG, Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) boats, were spotted a week ago in the WPS.

These Chinese vessels were spotted around Pag-asa Island, Julian Felipe Reef, Sabina Shoal, and the Ayungin Shoal during the week-long circuit of WPS done by PCG patrol boats on April 18-24, as ordered by President Marcos.

Both the PCG and the DFA had deplored what they described as the “aggressive actions” and “dangerous maneuvers” of the Chinese vessels, which repeatedly ignored Filipino authorities who had told them to leave our territory.

The PCG later on confirmed an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report that during that circuit week, a “near-crash” between vessels of the two countries took place on April 23 when Chinese vessels shadowed the BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo as these PCG vessels were approaching Ayungin Shoal.

According to a PCG report, the Chinese ships “exhibited aggressive tactics,” with the huge CCG vessel 5201 carrying out “dangerous maneuvers” at a “perilous distance” – cutting off BRP Malapascua and coming close to just 45 meters of the smaller PCG boat that posed a “significant threat” to the safety of the Philippine vessel and its crew.

“The Philippines has the legal right to carry out routine maritime patrols in our territorial waters and EEZ. The deployment of the BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua in the WPS from April 18 to 24 was one such mission,” DFA Undersecretary for bilateral relations and Spokesperson Theresa Daza said.

She added that “The China Coast Guard’s interference with this routine patrol mission was totally inconsistent with freedom of navigation, and a number of documented incidents also involved highly dangerous maneuvers that were contrary to standard navigational practices.”

Villafuerte is optimistic that the Biden administration is willing to speed up discussions on the planned joint maritime patrols, considering that the US State Department last week issued a statement that during his meeting with Mr. Marcos, “President Biden will reaffirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines and the leaders will discuss efforts to strengthen the long-standing US-Philippines alliance.”

The former CamSur governor pointed out that on the eve of Mr. Marcos’ trip to Washington, the US State Department also issued another statement assailing the Chinese intrusions into Philippine waters during the PCG’s April 18-24 patrol period as “a stark reminder of harassment and intimidation of Philippine vessels as they undertake routine patrols within their EEZ… The United States stands with the Philippines in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s continued infringement upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”

“We call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in the statement, affirming that “an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard,” would invoke US mutual defense commitments under the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Over the same weekend, Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu also hit the incident near the Ayungin Shoal, expressing concern on Twitter about China’s “unprofessional and dangerous conduct against the Philippines” in its territory.

“Concerned by further reports of unprofessional and dangerous conduct against the Philippines in its EEZ, Australia reiterates our call for peace, stability, and respect for UNCLOS in the South China Sea, a vital international waterway,” she said.

Villafuerte said that DFA Undersecretary Daza had revealed before Mr. Marcos’ US trip that “discussions on security and defense are a given,” because the two countries are long-standing military allies and that the President would certainly “reiterate his desire for the SCS and WPS to be an area of peace, security, stability, and prosperity… And if there are intrusions, then we do the necessary actions…”

Moreover, he said that Mr. Marcos himself, in an interview with broadcaster and former Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo, bared that Filipino and American officials will discuss commitments under the MDT during his US trip.

“We have to evolve it. It has to evolve dahil nag-e-evolve din, kailangan ina-adjust adjust din natin ‘yan dahil mayroon din talagang evolution, nagbabago rin sa sitwasyon na hinaharap natin dito sa South China Sea, sa gitna ng mga pangyayari, sa Taiwan, sa North Korea, lahat itong mga ano, na medyo umiinit ang sitwasyon dito sa atin,” said the President.

After the laser-pointing incident last Feb. 13, Villafuerte proposed that, “We should talk to our allies and have joint border patrols already.

The US, Japan, Australia, and all our allies should help us do joint border patrols. I think that’s the start (in putting an end to the Chinese bullying).”

“If China is really sincere in saying they want peace, it should stop these infractions. For me, as a Filipino, it’s a direct affront to us as a people. What they’re doing right now, with the laser pointing, you know, we should deploy vessels around the contested areas.”

“We are hoping that our Coast Guard officials could put on the fast lane the ongoing separate talks with their counterparts in our ally-countries like the US and Japan on the proposed conduct of joint maritime patrols in the WPS where Chinese vessels have had nonstop intrusions and bellicose maneuvers, in violation of the PCA’s 2016 international arbitration court ruling that such part of the SCS is Philippine territory,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte had also hoped that the government could similarly continue talks with Canberra officials on possible joint patrols with Australia in the disputed territory.

He had called on the PCG to “expand the scope of such planned joint patrols to check future Chinese incursions by initiating similar negotiations, if there aren’t any yet, with our allies other than the US and Japan that have likewise condemned Beijing’s ‘aggressive actions’ in the WPS.”