Marcos: WPS Drills with Allies Can Help Deter Chinese Aggression

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. expressed optimism on Monday that the recent multilateral maritime cooperative activity (MMCA) conducted by the Philippines, United States, Japan, and Australia in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) could help avoid further Chinese aggression in the region. Speaking to reporters in Bacolod City, Marcos said the Philippine government is exploring all avenues to engage in dialogue with China and prevent the escalation of tensions.

“We’re trying everything. We continue to talk at a ministerial level, at a sub-ministerial level, at a people-to-people level– lahat ng maaari nating gawin, ginagawa natin para makausap ang Chinese leadership, ang Beijing (we’re doing everything we can to talk with the Chinese leadership in Beijing),” he said.

MMCA Deemed "Very Useful" in Enhancing Interoperability

The President assessed the MMCA as “par for the course” and “very useful” in terms of enhancing interoperability among the participating navies. “The interim reports that I am getting is that very useful talaga in terms of the interoperability so that each navy knows how the other navy operates,” he noted.

Marcos played down concerns that the exercises could further escalate tensions, stating that China’s deployment of its own naval forces in response was already “almost normal.” However, he reiterated the government’s commitment to pursuing peaceful dialogue.

The MMCA, which involved naval and air forces from the four countries, aimed to promote freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the disputed waters. Japan reaffirmed its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific through the drills.

Senators Express Support, Bayan Muna Calls for Demilitarization

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Francis Tolentino both expressed support for the multilateral activity. Tolentino said it signaled a “strengthened alliance” and “strong deterrence” against bullying in the WPS.

Zubiri emphasized that the MMCA does not indicate a desire for war but rather demonstrates the readiness of like-minded countries to uphold freedom of navigation and adherence to international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

However, the Bayan Muna party list called for the demilitarization of the South China Sea to ease tensions. They urged the President to work with other claimant countries like Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia to file a joint UN resolution advocating for complete demilitarization of the disputed waters.

Philippines Pursues Dialogue Amid Recent Chinese Aggression

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, refusing to recognize a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated its sweeping claims. In March, a Chinese coast guard ship water cannoned a Philippine supply vessel in the WPS, the latest in a series of aggressive actions.

The President emphasized the importance of engaging in peaceful dialogue to prevent such incidents from happening again. He stressed that the Philippine government is doing everything in its power to communicate with Chinese leadership and prevent further escalation of tensions.

Marcos also noted that while the MMCA might irritate China, the positive developments from the exercise could outweigh this. The drills contribute to regional security and cooperation, promoting stability in the long run.

MMCA a Step Towards Stability

The successful conduct of the MMCA serves as a positive step towards promoting regional stability and cooperation in the West Philippine Sea. While concerns about escalating tensions remain, the Philippine government remains committed to pursuing peaceful dialogue with China to resolve disputes.

As the country continues to strengthen its alliances and partnerships with like-minded nations, it is hoped that such multilateral activities will contribute to maintaining a rules-based order in the region and deter further acts of aggression.

Ultimately, the President believes that through consistent dialogue and cooperation with allies, a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea dispute can be achieved, ensuring the safety and well-being of all parties involved.