President Marcos wants more focus on handling the country’s problems with China in the West Philippine Sea, which is why outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Andres Centino has been appointed as presidential adviser on WPS.
“There was a need to bring focus on the matters in that part of the country. We have actually mechanisms as to how these issues should be addressed. We have the National Task Force on the WPS, but our leadership has deemed it important (that) we address the issues there in a bigger scale,” Centino told reporters in an interview yesterday.
He said with geopolitical issues needing to be addressed more appropriately, Marcos has decided to create a new office and position, which will entail some reorganisation.
Centino, who will officially vacate his post today as AFP chief, said one of the goals is to address the problem of reported incursions and near collisions by Philippine and Chinese vessels in the WPS, which could have been avoided if the issue was addressed properly.
According to him, Marcos is yet to give him specific details on what the job would require since the office has not been created, “but what is clear is that there should be more focus on how we handle or address the problems there.”
Centino noted the insurgency problem is coming to an end and a shift to external defense is at hand.
Centino said addressing the WPS problem will mean a combination or mix of military and diplomatic means. “That’s why the task force would most likely be inter-agency,” he said.
At Camp Aguinaldo, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the Philippines has contingencies prepared if and when China decides to invade Taiwan and is closely monitoring the situation.
“We really have to make an assessment whether such is likely or not,” Teodoro said in an interview yesterday.
“Nonetheless, we continue to plan on all contingencies not merely any flashpoint between China and Taiwan but any contingency within theater and it’s a multi-agency effort, not only the defense effort,” he said.
Grade of 7
Experts on maritime law are giving President Marcos a rating of seven out of 10 or higher on his administration’s handling of the West Philippine Sea issue.
Julio Amador III, chief executive officer of Amador Research Services, and professor Jay Batongbacal, of University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, believe the government is on the right track in asserting the country’s rights over its territorial waters.
In a maritime media dialogue on July 19 organised by maritime law experts’ group Waypoints Project, both agreed the current administration has been firm in countering China’s claims in the WPS and South China Sea.
“I think we can say that seven is a high grade for the President,” Amador said, citing “consistency in the way that the administration has been going about the issue.”
“It has allowed the appropriate agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs to regularly make a statement on the Arbitration Award. There are no conflicting messages in terms of our victory in the Arbitral Tribunal,” he told reporters.
Amador however noted that the country still needs concrete measures to move the process forward and carry out the arbitral decision through policies and laws.
“We hope that the President will mention the Maritime Zones Bill as priority legislation in the SONA (State of the Nation Address),” he said.
Batongbacal believes Marcos deserves an even higher rating than seven because “the signals have been good, we hope that this is sustained over the longer period.”
During the dialogue, maritime law experts called on the President to declare the Maritime Zones Bill as a priority in order to push Congress into passing a law that will help the country enforce and carry out the 2016 Arbitral Award.
Noting that the present administration is actually doing a good job so far at protecting Philippine interests in WPS, enacting a law clearly defining the country’s territorial waters, exclusive economic zone and continental shelves will give it teeth and basis to act in accordance and consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Batongbacal said he hopes Marcos will ask the Senate to act on the maritime measure considering that the House of Representatives has already passed the same.
He said it is “very important to pass this within the year” especially after he declared in 2022 shortly after being elected into office that the Philippines will not yield one square inch of territory to any foreign country.
“If you enable the government to delineate and define the zones in appropriate maps and the corresponding accuracy so that we can have a very good, very clear idea of what it is that we are trying to preserve, what it is we are trying to manage and what it is that we will not be giving up,” he explained.
Batongbacal added that such a law will also guide the country’s military and law enforcement agencies that operate in the sea to clearly identify the geographical extent of the nation’s sovereignty and jurisdiction in the ocean.
“This will naturally enable the more effective monitoring, control, surveillance, management of all of our marine waters and marine resources that will be found therein. By doing so, we would actually be taking a step to carry out and enforce the SCS Arbitration Award which we won in 2016,” Batongbacal stressed.
He noted that the arbitral ruling that rejected China’s vast maritime claims in the SCS and the WPS is a declaratory judgment that depends upon the parties themselves to carry out.
According to him, passing a maritime zones law may even be a matter of personal significance to the President because it was his father, former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who started all of these claims in the 1960s and 1970s.
Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense and the military welcomed on Thursday the appointment of Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. as the next Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff. Brawner officially assumes the post today.
Secretary Teodoro said President Marcos picked the outgoing commanding general of the Philippine Army out of several candidates.
According to him, the President’s choice was supported by the whole defense establishment.