By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
SECURITY and foreign policy experts on Wednesday urged President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to partner with as many countries as possible to deter China’s aggression in the South China Sea.
“Multilateralism will counterbalance too much dependence in the United States,” Chester B. Cabalza, who studied national security and policymaking at the University of Delaware, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“It is a balancing act between the US and China,” he said. “It opens more opportunities for the Philippines to draw best practices from strategic and economic partners without being tied up to treaty alliance.”
Partnering with many security allies would prevent over commitment to one state and “bring in more differing strategies to our own advantage based on our defense needs,” Mr. Cabalza said.
The Philippines on Tuesday filed a diplomatic protest against China after accusing it of trying to block a resupply ship at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on Feb. 6.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it had filed the protest before the Chinese Embassy in Manila as it condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s dangerous maneuvers and alleged harassment of Philippine Coast Guard crew.
The Chinese Coast Guard endangering the crew of BRP Malapascua by shining a military-grade laser light on the Philippine ship was a “threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state,” the agency said.
Mr. Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian “to express his serious concern over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen in their bancas,” the presidential palace said in a separate statement.
This happened just a month after the Philippine leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue.
Early this month, Mr. Marcos Jr. expressed willingness to have a visiting forces agreement with Japan, a week after giving the US access to four more military bases under their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Ex-Marcos security adviser Clarita A. Carlos said she had advised him to pursue joint patrols not just with the US but also with other Western allies.
“We don’t want one hegemon,” she told the ABS-CBN News Channel. “There are so many centers of power right now.”
She said a visiting forces agreement with Japan would send a strong signal to China, adding that diplomatic protests have not stopped it from militarizing the South China Sea.
Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio said the Marcos government should clarify to the US whether the latest aggression of China constitutes an armed attack.
The Philippines has a mutual defense treaty with the US.
“The laser weapon, even if it causes only temporary blindness, is still a weapon or an arm that can be used in an attack that qualifies the attack as an armed attack under the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said in a statement.
“The recent use by China’s coast guard of lasers that temporarily blinded Philippine Coast Guard personnel constitutes an armed attack on a Philippine public vessel,” he added.
Mr. Carpio said there’s an international convention barring the use of military-grade lasers that lead to permanent blindness, to which the US, China, and the Philippines are parties.
Ms. Carlos said the Philippines could no longer rely on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since its members have their own national security interests. “We should no longer talk about an ASEAN collective position. There is none.”
She said any protests against China at the United Nations could also be vetoed by Beijing’s key allies including Russia.
“ASEAN is still relevant and reliable to our needs,” Mr. Cabalza said. “There are middle powers in ASEAN that can become balancers like us in the China-US power contest.”
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a policy analyst, said ASEAN is a “diplomacy mechanism” that could help the Philippines remain “nonpartisan” in the US-China rivalry.
He said the Senate should conduct a public “honest-to-goodness assessment of security-related arrangements we have with friendly nations.”
“Let the decision to seek new security agreements arise from these public deliberations,” he said. “We don’t want to end up entangled in a web of security agreements. Lets have a clear comprehension first of the current security regime. Then we decide if new arrangements are indeed optimal for us.”
Mr. Cabalza said military modernization is still be the best route to counter China’s expansive activities in the South China Sea. “It will boost our confidence as a nation and build strategic deterrence for our national security.”
“Getting international support is critical, but it is no substitute to local initiatives to modernize the country’s maritime capacity, improve its facilities in its administered islands and deepen its presence in the area through peaceful exercise of marine economic activities and more frequent patrols,” Lucio Blanco Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“Communication channels and dialogue with all parties to the dispute should remain open,” he said. “There is no one magic pill to address the complex and longrunning South China Sea spat. Defense, development and diplomacy should all go hand in hand.”
Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez urged Mr. Marcos to enter into visiting forces agreements with more countries including South Korea and Australia amid increasing threats from China.
“We should negotiate and enter into visiting forces agreements, like the one we have with the United States, in the face of heightened threats from China” he said in a statement.
He said China’s attempt to block the Philippine Navy ship during its resupply mission is “unacceptable and detestable” and “beyond the realm of civilized conduct.”
Renato C. De Castro, an international studies professor at De La Salle University, said that having VFAs would not harm the Philippines because “it is just a status of forces agreement… not a mutual defense treaty.”
“A status of forces agreement simply provides legal protection for foreign forces operating in your territory,” he said in a Viber message.
Surigao Del Norte Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers urged the Philippines’ allies to help the Southeast Asian nation enforce the 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.
The Philippines claims sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, which it calls Ayungin. It is within its exclusive economic zone.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said the Philippine Coast Guard had intruded into its waters.
Also on Wednesday, a group of congressmen filed a House of Representatives resolution seeking to probe the laser-pointing incident involving China’s coast guard.
Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas, who lead the filing of the resolution, accused the Chinese Foreign Ministry of gaslighting.
Partly-list Rep. France L. Castro, one of the authors of the resolution, in a separate statement said “such an attack is indicative of the true character of China now.” — with Beatriz Marie D. Cruz