The president says the country’s borders are being questioned just weeks after the public dispute with China.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said his country’s military urgently needs to focus on protecting territorial integrity as disputes between Manila and China escalate amid growing rivalry in the region between Beijing and Washington.
Marco Jr. made the remark in a speech to his armed forces just weeks after summoning the Chinese ambassador to Manila to protest the Chinese Coast Guard’s use of a military-grade laser that briefly blinded crew members of a Philippine patrol vessel in southern China . Sea.
“I say your mission with the AFP has changed,” Marcos told troops late Monday, referring to the armed forces of the Philippines.
“For many, many years we have been able to keep that peace and maintain that understanding with all of our neighbors. Now things are starting to change and we need to adapt accordingly,” he said.
The president said his country’s borders are being questioned, “and there are a lot of things that are happening, so the Air Force has a very big mission to fully secure the Philippines.”
He also mentioned “the intensification of competition between the great powers”.
While he did not provide details or mention China by name in his speech in the central province of Cebu, he stressed that Philippine foreign policy remains committed to peace.
Despite being a relatively small country, “we still have to fight for the rights of every Filipino because the Philippines is a sovereign nation,” he said.
The president’s comments come as the Philippine military has begun refocusing its external defense after decades of internal conflict involving Muslim and communist rebel groups.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are embroiled in an increasingly tense territorial stalemate in the South China Sea, where US naval vessels and fighter jets have conducted patrols to promote freedom of movement, challenge Beijing’s expansive claims and reassure allies such as the Philippines.
The disputes have intensified since China turned several disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases to bolster its claims over nearly all of the South China Sea. The maritime dispute is being considered a possible Asian focal point and a delicate front in the US-China rivalry in the region.
Under a 2014 defense pact, Marcos recently approved a broader U.S. military presence in the Philippines by allowing rotating batches of U.S. troops to reside in four more Philippine military camps. That is a sharp reversal from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who feared a US military presence could offend Beijing.
Manila has also signed agreements for close military relations with Japan, and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said last week that the two countries are considering joint patrols in the South China Sea.
The Philippine State Department said Monday it had filed dozens of protests with China over what it described as Beijing’s “illegal presence” in the Western Philippine Sea — the official name Manila uses to refer to parts of the southern China Sea. State Department spokeswoman Teresita Daza said the Philippines has filed a total of 77 protests against China, including 10 filed so far this year.
“The Philippines continues to protest against China’s continued and illegal presence in Philippine waters, including near Ayungin Shoal,” Daza said, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
Earlier this month, Manila accused China’s Coast Guard of aiming a “military laser” at one of its Coast Guard vessels supporting a troop resupply mission on an atoll in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal.
The Philippines has filed a total of 77 protests against China, including 10 this year, under President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the State Department said.
FULL STORY: pic.twitter.com/Rg2RHWVebC
— Philippine Press Agency (@pnagovph) February 28, 2023
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez told Reuters news agency on Monday that the Philippines is in talks to possibly include Australia and Japan in planned joint South China Sea patrols with the US.
If the plan materializes, it will be the first time the Philippines has joined multilateral maritime patrols in the South China Sea, a move likely to anger Beijing, which claims most of the sea as its territory.
The foreign ministries of Australia and Japan and the US and Chinese embassies in Manila did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment.