Philippine and US Soldiers board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to conduct helocast operations during exercise Balikatan at Fort Magsaysay, Philippines, in 2015. | Photo by Sgt. Marty Borton via Wikimedia Commons
“We have every right, as with China and any sovereign nation, to pursue a foreign policy that serves our national interest and should not be cowed by such threats which I do not consider friendly at all… Isn’t what China did in Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea also undermining the stability of the region?… Bago nila pansinin ang dumi sa mata natin, dapat manalamin muna sila (Before they point to the dirt on our eye, they should first take a look in the mirror).”
Those statements by Senator Chiz Escudero are spot on and express the exact sentiment of a large majority of Filipinos worldwide. They were in response to China’s “warning” that expanding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) by granting the United States more access to Philippine military facilities “will seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability.”
In the first place, it is not the Philippines that has been the subject of numerous protests and complaints by other nations regarding incursion, encroachment, bullying, and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, as seen in the laser-pointing incident at Ayungin Shoal by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that resulted in the temporary blindness of some crew members of a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel.
Filipinos find the Chinese ambassador’s explanation that the Chinese Coast Guard did not use a military-grade laser but an ordinary green light pointer – like the kind that can be bought from online shopping sites – totally absurd, rubbish, and unbelievable.
“Masyado na nila tayong ginagago. Ano, gusto nilang maniwala tayo na nabibili lang sa Shopee yung gamit nilang laser sa barko nila (They’re making fools of us. What, they want us to believe they just buy their lasers from Shopee)?” a reader sent me via email.
Comments on social media chat groups and online forums also reflect the growing anger of the people over what they describe as unacceptable behavior (“hindi katanggap-tanggap”) of the Chinese military, especially since the laser-pointing incident happened within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.
People are getting tired of this kind of doublespeak from China, which says they are our friends but whose actions and behavior do not match their pronouncements. Many agree with Senator JV Ejercito, who said that China claims to be “a friend to the Philippines,,,, but what they are doing is contrary to what they are saying.” Looks more like they are a friend to some, but certainly not the Philippines.
We do not need to ask permission from any country on what we want to do with what is clearly a part of our territory – totally within our exclusive economic zone.
Our defense strategy, enunciated by our defense establishment, is that EDCA is not directed against any one country. The Philippines has every right to determine what is in our best interest in expanding the EDCA. Initiatives such as the US-Philippines Balikatan Exercises have greatly benefited our soldiers. Many of our officers who called on me at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC, while undergoing special schooling told me they were extremely pleased with the training they received from the joint activities and programs offered by the United States.
As President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told the members of the 9th Infantry Division during his visit to Camp Elias Angeles in Pili, Camarines Sur, last Thursday – we need a “sophisticated and well-trained military” as “what is becoming more complicated and more difficult are the external threats that we are facing.”
The President also pointed out that the geographical location of the 9th ID is very close to some of the disputed areas, where numerous ships enter. “We also need to guard that, which is why this is a new mission for you,” he told the troops, at the same time assuring them that his administration has been working very hard to modernize our military.
I, for one, am totally convinced our armed forces will be one of the best within five to 10 years as we continue toward our path to modernization and training. Definitely, our soldiers would be well-trained and well-equipped to handle the evolving security threats and challenges in the region.
Even the European Union – through EU special envoy to the Indo-Pacific region Richard Tibbels – has indicated that they want to step up their naval presence in the region and are also mulling the possibility of taking part in joint military exercises to ensure that freedom of navigation and overflight continues and that global trade is not affected by increasing tensions in the region.
Many other nations, such as Australia, recognize that the region’s situation has become unpredictable, so Australia’s leadership has agreed to a trilateral security agreement with the United Kingdom and the US (AUKUS) to enhance their national security.
Unfortunately, a “spent force” former senator trying hard to be relevant totally misses the point – obviously out of touch with the reality we are facing today regarding the situation in the Indo-Pacific region. This is not a question of taking sides or staying neutral; neither is it a question of war or peace. This is about upholding our national interest – a defense strategy in deterring any form of aggression.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong put it succinctly – “We don’t face the region of 30 years ago. We don’t face a region that we hope we had. We face the region of today and we (all) have to work to ensure the region we want for the future.”