Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte cites the positive reception of the United States (US), Australia, and Japan to the proposed joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Villafuerte says such patrols are primarily meant to put in check Beijing’s increasingly aggressive incursions in the Philippines's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Positive reception to joint maritime patrols in WPS emboldens Villafuerte
At a glance
Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte has never been more hopeful of the prospect of joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) by the Philippines and its allies the United States (US), Australia, and Japan.
This, as the majority leader of the Commission on Appointments (CA) cited the positive reception of these countries to the idea, which is primarily meant to put in check Beijing’s increasingly aggressive incursions in the Philippines's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“A multilateral maritime security set-up in the WPS involving Australia and more allies other than the US has become a probability following last week’s elevation of Manila-Canberra defense and economic ties from a comprehensive to a strategic partnership, in support of a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific Region,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte is bullish about the inclusion of Australia in the planned joint WPS patrols involving the US and the Philippines, after visiting Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong conveyed last May 18 that Canberra is open to cooperation with the Philippines on ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indo-Pacific region.
“There are clear signs indeed that joint maritime patrols in Philippine waters with the US, and possibly with other like-minded allies like Australia and Japan that are aspiring for a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific region, are happening sooner than later,” said the Bicolano.
When asked in a press briefing after the May 18 Palace courtesy call whether Australia would conduct joint patrols with the Philippines and the US, Wong replied that, “"We are open to cooperating with all our partners to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight. And the Philippines is a long-standing important security partner for us."
Villafuerte said there is a better chance, too, that Japan might take part in the planned joint patrols, as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo himself said last week that trilateral military cooperation among Manila, Canberra and Tokyo "are certainly under consideration".
"We look forward to discussing with Australia and our other partners, Japan, and even with perhaps the US, on possible modes of cooperation...we are certainly planning to take forward these discussions in the very near future," Manalo said.
Earlier, Villafuerte expressed optimism that joint patrols in the WPS would come to fruition after US President Joe Biden assured President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. during the latter’s official working visit to Washington earlier this month that the US would have Manila’s back on South China Sea (SCS) concerns.
Biden also favored expanding maritime security cooperation—in accordance with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two countries.
A former Camarines Sur governor, Villafuerte said “such hoped-for bilateral or multilateral border security patrols will be superior to Manila’s current approach of just firing hundreds of diplomatic protests over the incessant intrusions of CCG (Chinese Coast Guard), PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and CMM (Chinese Maritime Militia) boats into waters that a United Nations (UN)-backed arbitral ruling declared in 2016 to be part of our territory and EEZ."
“We need to leverage the 2016 decision of the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands) to junk China’s nine-dash-line claims and at the same time affirm the Philippines’ legal stake over the WPS,” he said.
“And the appropriate approach for us right now to better defend our territory against the bullying ways of a military superpower like China is to secure Philippine waters with the help of the US and possibly our other allies like Australia and Japan that similarly aspire for peace, security and stability in the region," he noted.