Standing shoulder to shoulder for security | Inquirer Opinion

Standing shoulder to shoulder for security

Many Filipinos have come to view the situation in the West Philippine Sea as a risk to our security, given the increase in both frequency and intensity of China’s aggressive acts. China’s expansionist and militaristic maneuvers call for no less than the refinement and enhancement of the administration’s foreign and security strategies.

These aggressive acts are a risk to our country, in both the maritime defense sense and the economic sense. China’s wanton disregard for the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration is cause for alarm. It is an affront to Philippine sovereignty and a display of disrespect for international law and the established order. Likewise, China’s actions also threaten our economic security because it jeopardizes the livelihood of our fisherfolk who source their living from their catch, but who are prevented from doing so through sheer bullying and intimidation.

Despite these risks, there are also great opportunities.

Internally, the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC) is a testament to how the Philippines is adopting measures to closely integrate the branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines—a truly unified defense strategy across the archipelago.


The CADC provides good support for maximizing yet other opportunities—specifically in the form of collaboration among like-minded countries who do respect international law. These countries can be counted on to preserve the rules-based international order.

A timely example of this is the 39th Balikatan exercises which started on April 22 and will continue until May 10. The primary actors in this are, of course, the Philippines and the United States, but they are being joined by numerous other countries acting as either participants or observers. The Australian Defense Force is a part of it. Others are Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

It must be emphasized, however, that the Balikatan is not being conducted to threaten or provoke any country.

This year’s exercise covers several critical areas including external defense operations, cyberdefense, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and interagency capacity-building. It is expected to be historic, not only in scale—being the largest joint training exercise in the history of both nations with participants exceeding 16,000—but also in terms of actors involved.


For example, this is the first time that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will participate. The PCG is expected to sail alongside US, Australian, and French ships as part of the multilateral maritime exercise (MME) to be conducted in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The French’s participation is especially notable, being part of the MME with the Philippines and the US. The MME showcases impressive demonstrations, including simulated formation sailing scenarios and surface gun exercises, testing the navies’ capabilities and communication skills in challenging environments.


The first MME signifies a milestone in regional cooperation and security in the Indo-Pacific. It further provides an opportunity to improve maritime capabilities, promote interoperability among allied navies, and demonstrate collective strength and readiness, thereby sending a clear message to potential adversaries in the Indo-Pacific.

Indeed, collaborations like these illustrate opportunities created amid shared trials and foster deeper understanding among states facing common challenges.

China’s response to these exercises, while not unexpected, is still deplorable. In the vicinity of the Balikatan exercises, it violated the Notice to Mariners, which was requested by the organizers to ensure safety for the duration of the Balikatan. On the day that the MME involved gunnery exercise, cross-deck operations, detect and engage, and photo exercise, two Navy ships of the People’s Liberation Army were detected within the vicinity. The previous day, another Chinese vessel was sighted near the MME location. Then again, this does not come as a surprise because China continues to intrude into Philippine territory and violate its obligations under international law.

Notwithstanding this behavior by its giant neighbor, the Philippines is not one to take bullying and other aggressive acts sitting down. As it boosts its internal capability to defend its territory, more than ever, it is primed to collaborate and work with many other nations that share its values, not only to protect what is ours but to ensure the stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the rules-based international order.


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Dindo Manhit is founder and CEO of the Stratbase Group.


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