Faustino careful to poke on WPS row in anniversary greeting to China’s PLA

Department of National Defense (DND) Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr. was invited during the 95th founding anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) held at the Shangri-La The Fort, Manila in Taguig City on Friday night, July 29.

Department of National Defense (DND) Officer in Charge Jose Faustino Jr. (File photo / DND)

In a speech sent to reporters on Saturday, July 30, Faustino congratulated China’s military “for carrying out your defense modernization,” which he noted was also being done by the Philippines.

His speech centered on the blossoming defense relations between Manila and Beijing although he was careful to discuss the two countries’ ongoing maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), keeping his tone diplomatic and neutral.

“While acknowledging differences and competition, which are normal features of international relations, the Department of National Defense is of the view that peaceful coexistence and shared prosperity can be attained if all regional countries are to place importance on cooperation and regional peace above all else,” Faustino said.

“As our two countries’ relations have long been rooted in shared history, culture, and tradition that is enriched by our geographical proximity and people-to-people exchanges, we welcome increased engagements between our two defense establishments,” he noted.

The Defense chief added that the DND recognizes the importance of China’s defense establishment, including the CPLA, in contributing to the collective efforts of keeping the peace in the region.

As such, he expressed hope for both countries’ “active cooperation” in the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, the highest defense consultative and cooperative mechanism in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Consistent with ASEAN’s open and inclusive perspective, such would only be possible if all regional countries are allowed to contribute, which is why the Department of National Defense maintains the view that active engagement with all regional countries, without leaving anyone out, is critical for our shared success,” he noted.

Faustino then expressed commitment to the implementation and expansion of the 2004 Philippines-China memorandum of understanding (MOU) on defense cooperation

to advance the two countries’ collaboration on military training and education, service-to-service exchanges, and experts’ exchanges.

The CPLA and the China Coast Guard (CGG) have been accused of harassing Filipino fishermen and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) whenever they sail in or fly over the WPS.

Numerous diplomatic protests were filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) against China for their reported encroachment in the Philippines’ territory, or for swarming various reefs and other structures inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or for blocking the entry of Filipino fishermen in their traditional fishing ground in the WPS.

China continues to assert its dominance in a large part of the South China Sea which includes the WPS while continuously defying the 2016 international arbitral ruling which invalidated its historical claims in the area.

The Philippines, on the other hand, banks on the bold statement of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25 that he will not abandon even a square inch of the country’s territory to any foreign power while he remains in office.

Faustino reiterated the Commander-in-Chief’s directive to “build a relationship with China” in terms of other things such as cultural, educational exchanges, and even military “if that will be useful.”