PH, US considering joint ‘maritime law enforcement’ ops

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

April 25, 2024, 1:03 pm

<p>Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez <em>(PNA photo by Joyce Ann Rocamora)</em></p>

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez (PNA photo by Joyce Ann Rocamora)

WASHINGTON DC – The Philippines and the United States are considering maritime law enforcement operations within the country’s waters to promote a “law-based” order in the South China Sea, a ranking official said Wednesday.

Senior government officials from the two countries met for the 11th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) here on April 22 and 23 and reiterated the need to maintain peace and security in the maritime domain.

The two governments, in a joint statement released Wednesday night (Washington DC time), said they would “consider and develop, as appropriate, procedures and protocols on cooperative maritime law enforcement operations.”

It noted that this possible activity would be “in accordance with international law and our respective national laws.”

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said this would be a first, but once it proceeds, the country hopes to rope in more like-minded countries, such as Australia and Japan.

“We're still hoping that we can include Australia and Japan, but it still has to be worked out by the DND (Department of National Defense),” he said in a separate telephone interview.

“They've already talked about it. It's just putting some flesh into it."

Talks are still in the initial stages but Romualdez said the idea is to “stop any aggressive moves” within the Philippine territory and the “exclusive economic zone,” an apparent reference to the West Philippine Sea.

This development comes amid China’s previous “aggressive actions” in the area, including the conduct of dangerous maneuvers and the use of water cannons against Filipino resupply vessels.

At the BSD, the two sides also reiterated their calls on China “to comport its maritime claims in the South China Sea with the international law of the sea” as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The two sides also urged Beijing to respect the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction and to comply with the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Ruling.

On top of maritime law enforcement operations, the two states also decided to convene the 3rd Maritime Dialogue in Manila by October.

The two sides also sought to explore ways to strengthen global support for upholding the UNCLOS and cooperation against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Meanwhile, Romualdez confirmed that the two states are still in talks on the conclusion of the bilateral Philippines-Security Sector Assistance Roadmap and the finalization of additional Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites.

The two sides also agreed to discuss the conclusion of a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact or the so-called General Security of Military Information Agreement by the end of the year. (PNA)