Collaborative efforts on maritime security
Recent developments point to a more assertive stance being taken by the Philippines to forge cooperation with various countries on the issue of maritime security.
On Jan. 11, we signed a defense and security cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom to expedite bilateral cooperation that will greatly enhance the country’s defense posture. It focuses on training, capacity-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and research and technology.
On Jan. 19, another agreement on defense cooperation, this time with Canada, was signed. This deal, according to Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., will address both our military and civilian defense vulnerabilities. This milestone in defense relations could culminate in a visiting forces agreement.
Also ongoing are talks with Japan for a reciprocal access agreement that the government hopes to sign this year. The two countries are discussing plans to boost maritime security cooperation amid emerging challenges.
Germany and Indonesia have also expressed readiness to collaborate with the Philippines in enhancing maritime cooperation and finalizing a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
An agreement with Vietnam was expected to be signed during President Marcos’ state visit to Hanoi.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is looking at holding more naval patrols at Bajo de Masinloc in Zambales since the military can allocate more resources for external defense, its spokesperson said. Aside from building islands in the West Philippine Sea and developing the area to assert our sovereignty, the defense establishment is also enhancing our cybersecurity infrastructure and processes.
There are times when governments have to implement policies that do not enjoy popular support among the people. In these cases, the government’s political will is tested, as it goes ahead in the belief that the policies, while not popular, will eventually benefit the nation.
The Philippines does not have this problem in the area of defense and maritime security.
A Pulse Asia survey commissioned by Stratbase revealed that Filipinos do want their government to work with other countries in strengthening our defense capabilities, while also fostering economic growth.
In the survey conducted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 7 last year, Pulse Asia found that a majority of Filipinos—55 percent—believe that the Marcos administration can fulfill its promise of protecting the West Philippine Sea against the illegal and aggressive actions of other states.
Since assuming power in 2022, Mr. Marcos has vowed to let national interest serve as the primordial guide in our foreign policy, with not a single square inch of territory relinquished to any foreign power. The same survey revealed that an overwhelming 90 percent of Filipinos do not see China as a trustworthy partner given what is currently happening in the West Philippine Sea.
The respondents also want the administration to work with our established allies like the United States, Australia, and Japan—with 79 percent, 43 percent, and 42 percent, respectively, citing these countries as their top three choices. Their choices are not surprising since these three are also our top beneficial trading partners.
What measures can be taken to assert our rights in the West Philippine Sea, the respondents were asked.
We can strengthen our external defense capability through the AFP Modernization Program (67 percent); conduct joint patrols and military exercises (56 percent); establish a stronger military presence in the West Philippine Sea by repairing the BRP Sierra Madre; conduct regular resupply missions, and ensure control of the Ayungin Shoal (52 percent), and improve inter-agency cooperation among agencies involved in maritime security (52 percent).
Indeed, the actions by the Marcos administration in collaborating with like-minded nations are aligned not only with what it had promised in the beginning, but with what Filipinos actually want. More and more citizens are becoming aware of the challenges we face in the West Philippine Sea because of the conscious strategy of assertive transparency. This has become an effective tool to expose the ongoing aggressive actions in our own territory and to rally support—internally among the people and externally among countries who share the same values and respect for the rules-based international order—for the Philippines’ bid to defend and protect what is rightfully ours.
This year, there will be more challenges in both the traditional and nontraditional fronts. As the Philippines takes steps forward to becoming a middle power in the Indo-Pacific region, the administration can take heart that its efforts to collaborate with other countries are backed by public opinion.
People want their government to stand up for their rights. This is what it truly means to be guided by the national interest.
Dindo Manhit is founder and CEO of the Stratbase Group.