SUNDAY, April 21, 2024

Philippines seeks defense support from 3 key allies

Philippines seeks defense support from 3 key allies

The Philippines is looking at the continued support from three of its key allies—the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia—as China shows an increasingly aggressive stance in its maritime dispute with Manila in the South China Sea.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. on Friday said that in the coming months, the Philippines and the United States would conduct more joint patrols in the West Philippines Sea (WPS), waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

He said US Adm. John Aquilino, chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom), had committed to increasing joint naval manoeuvres called Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA), aimed at enhancing interoperability of Filipino and US forces through maritime domain and security awareness operations.

Brawner announced the plans in a meeting with senior US military officers participating in the Capstone Pacific Program at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, said Col. Xerxes Trinidad, chief of the AFP’s public affairs office.

“We are going to do those activities more; we will increase the frequency and its range,” Brawner said, adding that Aquilino told him “he’s ready when we are ready.”

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told the Capstone delegates in a meeting a day earlier of the need to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a rules-based order amid the security challenges in the region, according to a statement from the Department of National Defense (DND).

He pointed to the “pivotal role” of the close cooperation between Manila and Washington in maintaining regional peace and prosperity through the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the United States access to Philippine bases.

Teodoro told the Americans that the AFP was upgrading its capability to protect the Philippines’ EEZ.

UK ventures

Earlier last week, Teodoro met with Richard Graham, the UK Prime Minister’s trade envoy, and their discussions included “the South China Sea, and potential avenues for collaboration in defence and investment,” under a memorandum of understanding on defence cooperation signed in January by Manila and London.

Teodoro and Graham “expressed interest in exploring joint ventures with British investors and other forms of cooperation to support” the revised AFP modernization program.

President Marcos recently approved the updated acquisition plan for the Re-Horizon 3, the last stage in the modernization plan, which would cost about P2 trillion and would be focused on acquiring equipment for external defence.

A list of materials under the updated program was not immediately available but the original plan included multirole fighters, radars, frigates, missile systems, and rescue helicopters.

Marcos to Australia

In his meeting with Graham, the defence chief reaffirmed the importance of its alliance with countries, such as the United States and Australia, both of which have a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines.

The President will visit Australia from Feb. 28 to Feb. 29 ahead of the Australia-Association of Southeast Asian Nations special summit on March 4 to March 6.

Malacañang said Mr Marcos will discuss the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Australia signed in September 2023.

New defense concept

The President will meet with senior Australian officials to discuss defence and security, trade, investments, people-to-people exchanges, multilateral cooperation and regional issues, the Presidential Communications Office said on Saturday.

The AFP has declared that it was shifting its focus from the internal defence—fighting insurgents and terror groups—to external defence.

With this shift, the AFP has adopted the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept as its new defence strategy for the country’s 7,600 islands. Teodoro last month explained that the concept involved projecting “our power into areas where we must, by constitutional fiat and duty, protect and preserve our resources.”

Earlier this month, Brawner said the new concept would entail the acquisition of more ships, aircraft and radar systems, and the development of Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine Navy said it would make the AFP’s new defence concept its centrepiece program and anchor its operations on it, according to Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad.

He told a press briefing on Thursday that the Western Command (Wescom) based in Palawan would be responsible for the West Philippine Sea while the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) based in Tarlac would take care of the country’s northern islands in Batanes province and the Benham Rise.

Still the biggest aid source

“The thrust of the Philippine Navy right now is to show the AFP that we are making a strong stand when it comes to protecting our sovereignty in WPS,” Trinidad said.

In January this year, Teodoro said more countries wanted to sign defence cooperation agreements with the Philippines.

The United States, the Philippines’ treaty ally, is still its biggest source of military aid.

The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. From 2015 to 2022, it delivered more than $1.14 billion worth of planes, armoured vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment and training.

The amount includes $475.3 million worth of foreign military financing, which is among the biggest in Southeast Asia, $445 million for capacity building, $112.9 million in threat reduction programs, $95.3 million for maritime security and $15.5 million in International Military Education and Training program.

The United States also delivered ScanEagle drones worth P200 million in October 2021, and new weapons, munitions and equipment worth P231.5 million in June 2021.

In 2022, the United States granted $100 million in foreign military financing to the Philippines as part of its efforts to boost the country’s defence capabilities and modernize its military.

Nestor Corrales 

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Asia News Network