Next PH prexy must tap int'l support to keep peace, stability in WPS -- think tank

Whoever wins the presidential elections on May 9 should take advantage of the growing momentum of international support and evolving foreign and security policies toward the Indo-Pacific region so that the Philippines could respond more decisively to China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) increased its presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to assert the country’s territory in celebration of the National Flag Day on May 28, 2021. (Photo courtesy of PCG)

This was the recommendation of Victor Andres "Dindo" Manhit, president of the Stratbase Albert del Rosario (ADR) Institute, as he noted that more countries are openly expressing their support to the Philippines amid China's continued disregard of the maritime laws of the Philippines.

"States have become more responsive to the changing regional security architecture considering its possible impact on their national security and economic development," Manhit said in a statement on Tuesday, March 15.

Manhit cited several countries that have rallied behind the Philippines in upholding the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which rejected China's claims in the South China Sea including parts of the West Philippine Sea. These include the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia among others.

Manhit stressed the need for the Philippines to work with allies on various strategies to effectively respond to scenarios should China resort to direct force to impose its will in the region.

Meanwhile, Stratbase fellow Richard Heydarian highlighted China’s continuing expansion of China’s military and commercial footprint across different strategic bases and port facilities in the Indo-Pacific.

The Asian powerhouse is gradually creating a new order with Chinese communist characteristics, he said.

“It poses a direct threat to smaller claimant states such as the Philippines, which have yet to develop a minimum deterrence capability against growing Chinese incursions into its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf," Heydarian stated.

Heydarian added that the best response is for the next administration to “respond to China’s strategic opportunism and leverage the broader shifts in geopolitical alignments in the Indo-Pacific maintaining a firm, consistent and uncompromising position in terms of the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea in accordance to the relevant provisions of the 1987 Constitution as well as 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Award under the aegis of the UNCLOS.”

Heydarian also pushed for the optimization, leveraging and upgrading of the Philippines' existing defense agreements with the United States and Australia, and, over time, Japan, South Korea and other key regional players.