Marcos won’t allow Philippines to be used as military launchpad

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Sunday said he would not allow any country to use the Philippines as a staging post for any kind of military action, amid increasing tensions between the US and China over self-ruled Taiwan. 

“We will not allow that to happen,” he said told reporters aboard the plane on his way to Washington, based on a transcript sent by the presidential palace.

“All we are worried about is the peace and the safety of our people, here and abroad. And that’s the main consideration. So in my view, that’s the role.”

Mr. Marcos said his government would “not encourage any provocative action” by other countries that will involve the Philippines.

The Philippine leader on Sunday left Manila for a four-day visit to Washington. He and US President Joseph R. Biden were set to meet at the White House on May 1.

Mr. Marcos said he wanted to understand Washington’s view of the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and “how do they feel it will develop and what part today the US intends to play.”

He said he intends to “put our position forward.” “We have no interest other than peace in our region.”

He said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also plays a crucial role in keeping the peace and lowering tensions.

“The best move for us is to stay within ASEAN, keep ASEAN solid, strong and united,” he said. If ASEAN members have a consensus, it would remain strong “be the one to conduct and to lead the political fortunes of all the other countries around Asia.”

The Philippine leader said China had yet to form a team that will talk to Philippine officials to settle sea disputes.

He made the remark when asked if had spoken with Chinese officials about a near-collision incident between a Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Philippine patrol vessel carrying journalists in the South China Sea on April 23.

“They almost collided and that can cause casualties on both sides,” Mr. Marcos said.

“And that’s exactly what we want to avoid, so I told them we should finish it, create the high-level communication mechanism we talked about. It has yet to be formed,” he said. “We’re waiting for China to give us the details of who will be the team at their end.”

The president said his government had submitted the names and “even the telephone numbers” of its team members.

Mr. Marcos said China had agreed to “sit down” and talk about Filipinos’ fishing rights within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

“I’ve asked the Coast Guard and the Department of Foreign Affairs to put together perhaps a map of these fishing grounds that we will say, this is part of the Philippines, and we’ll see what they say when we give them our proposal,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

The two countries agreed to form a communication mechanism during Mr. Marcos’ state visit to China in January. The mechanism should be between the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.

The April 23 incident between the Philippines and China happened just a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Mr. Marcos in Manila, where they agreed to establish more “lines of communications.”

Boosting communication lines between the two countries would help immediately resolve “any event that occurs in the West Philippine Sea that involves China and the Philippines,” Mr. Marcos said in a statement after their April 22 meeting.

The April 23 incident happened after BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) approached the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines calls Ayungin.

Second Thomas Shoal is home to a small military contingent aboard a rusty World War II-era US ship that was intentionally grounded in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines’ territorial claims.

The Philippine vessels were shadowed by Chinese Navy and coast guard ships while these were patrolling within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it had spotted a swarm of more than 100 Chinese vessels during the April 18- 24 journey.

In February, just a month after Mr. Marcos’ China visit, the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard of endangering the crew of a Philippine resupply ship at Second Thomas Shoal by pointing a military-grade laser at the vessel.  Mr. Marcos summoned Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian over the incident.

Mr. Marcos in February announced the expansion of the Philippines’ 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, giving Washington access to four more military bases on top of the five existing sites.

China has criticized the EDCA expansion, accusing Washington of endangering regional peace and stability.

EDCA banks on the 1999 visiting forces agreement and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and US.

In September 1991, Philippine senators ended a treaty that allowed the US to operate military bases north of the country. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza