Addressing China’s Aggression: Reviewing PH-US Military Exercises to Protect the West Philippine Sea

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Reviewing the Balikatan Joint Military Exercises to Address China’s Aggression

Senators have called for a review of the yearly Balikatan joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States, emphasizing the need to make them more responsive to deter China’s persistent aggression in the West Philippine Sea. The Balikatan exercises, organized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Armed Forces, are not specifically designed for combat operations against other nations.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, Chairman of the Committee on National Defense and Security, highlighted that the purpose of these joint military drills is not to directly challenge other nations’ actions. He stated that utilizing the exercises to impede China’s coercive actions against Philippine vessels falls outside the scope of the Balikatan drills.

While some of this year’s Balikatan exercises occur in disputed areas, it is important to note that their primary objective is to enhance the country’s defense systems’ interoperability with its allies. Sen. Francis Tolentino echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the need to trust the effectiveness of alliances rather than being distracted by unruly behavior.

Upholding International Law and Sovereign Rights

The recent aggression by China towards civilian vessels in the West Philippine Sea has further emphasized the importance of upholding international law. Sen. Estrada reiterated the Philippines’ unwavering commitment to promoting regional peace and upholding international law. He emphasized that the country will continue engaging in lawful activities within its territorial jurisdiction, including in Bajo de Masinloc, which is a vital source of livelihood for Filipinos and falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva also expressed gratitude to the nations involved in the Balikatan exercises, highlighting the importance of strengthening partnerships to enhance the country’s defense capabilities. He condemned China’s aggressive behavior, referring to them as a certified bully, and stressed that their scare tactics are merely propaganda.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, the Senate Minority Leader, suggested responding to China’s recent water cannon attacks on Philippine vessels with diplomacy and intelligent tactics. He emphasized the need for careful consideration when invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), stating that it should only be invoked in response to an “armed attack” on Philippine public vessels, aircraft, or armed forces.

The United States has reaffirmed its commitment to its defense obligations under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines MDT. This commitment ensures that the US will support the Philippines in the event of an armed attack on its public vessels, aircraft, or armed forces.

China’s Deliberate Challenge to the Alliance

Some observers suggest that China’s recent water cannon attacks on Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea were a deliberate move to challenge the alliance between Manila and Washington. The encounter near Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), within the Philippines’ EEZ, resulted in damage to vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

It is crucial to address China’s aggressive actions and find diplomatic solutions to prevent further escalation. The Philippines, along with its allies, must continue to assert its sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, particularly the Scarborough Shoal, which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

By reviewing and adapting the Balikatan joint military exercises, the Philippines and the United States can enhance their defense capabilities and send a strong message to China that their aggression will not go unchallenged. It is vital to maintain alliances, uphold international law, and ensure the protection of sovereign rights in the face of China’s persistent aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Source: The Manila Times

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