MANILA – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Friday said the Philippines and the United States would hold more joint patrols in the coming days, following the successful three-day "maritime cooperative activity" (MCA) between the two nations earlier this week.
"There will be several iterations of joint patrols and this should not be an issue because it is entirely within the rights of the Philippines to patrol anywhere, whether in the high seas or in the area where it has jurisdiction pursuant to international law," Teodoro said in a briefing on the sidelines of the DND's 84th founding anniversary at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
He declined to give specific dates on when the next joint patrol with the US will be conducted.
Teodoro said these are part of the country's engagements with its allies and partners.
"There are plans along the way for this year, next year and the succeeding years. In the seas, we have (the) right of innocent passage and the freedom of navigation within our area, we have the sole police jurisdiction over the area and it is a question for the Philippines and not any other country to determine," he said.
Sought for comment on Chinese allegations that the Philippines have enlisted foreign forces to stir up trouble, Teodoro said it is actually China who is the one stirring trouble.
"Sino ba ang nananakop? Sino ba ang (kumukubkob)?,(Who is the one occupying? Who is the one encroaching in the South China Sea, sa (in) the West Philippine Sea (WPS)? It is China, the Philippines is not stirring up trouble. This is a reverse of the truth. It's an absolute falsity for China to say that and it is once again reversing the truth consistent with its narrative," he said.
"The Philippines is not stirring up trouble as we always reiterate. our interests are to protect our rights in accordance with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and international law which China purports to respect in words but unfortunately not in deeds and so whatever China says about this I think their credibility is very, very low," he added.
On Nov. 21 to 23, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) launched maritime tactical exercises as part of the three-day MCA in the WPS.
Two vessels of the Philippine Navy, the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS-15), performed cross-deck operations, Officer of the Watch maneuvers, and publication and communication exercises with the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10).
The MCA is an approved activity of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board and within the framework of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. It aims to test protocols and further enhance interoperability between the AFP and USINDOPACOM.
On Thursday, AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said a Chinese vessel shadowed the joint maritime patrol of the Philippines and the US but did not commit any aggressive actions.
The joint maritime patrol, which consisted of two Philippine Navy ships and one US Navy vessel, took place at about 10:15 a.m. Thursday near the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project Platform, about 27 nautical miles from Palawan.
‘Foreign forces’ claim unfounded
National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said the Philippines categorically rejects China's assertion that it has enlisted "foreign forces" to patrol the South China Sea.
"The joint patrols conducted by the Philippines with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign nation and in accordance with international law, the RP (Republic of the Philippines)-US Mutual Defense Treaty, and the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippines has the inherent and sovereign right to conduct joint air and naval patrols with its partners, allies, and friends to ensure the security and stability of the region," he added.
He also said the maritime cooperation activity is a series of goodwill activities at sea, which includes passing exercises, joint voyages, maneuvers, communications checks, and cross-deck operations.
This ensures and enhances the interoperability between the armed forces of the Philippines and the US and is not directed at any country.
"The joint patrols were conducted within 40 to 140 nautical miles from mainland Luzon and Palawan and are well within the country's exclusive economic zone. China's claim that our actions are allegedly 'stirring up trouble' in the region is unfounded. We will continue to exercise our rights and fulfill our obligations to maintain peace and stability in the region in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific," Año said.
He added that Manila rejects any attempt to undermine its legitimate actions to safeguard its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.
"We call on all parties to respect international law, engage in constructive dialogue, and work towards a peaceful and cooperative future in the entire South China Sea," Año stressed. (PNA)