On top of filing a diplomatic protest against China, the Philippines is gearing up for an intensified defense training against external threats in light of fresh Chinese incursions in Manila’s exclusive economic zones in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), diplomatic officials said on Thursday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario made the disclosure when the DFA presented its proposed P12 billion 2014 budget before the House Committee on Appropriations.
“We’re framing an appropriate diplomatic protest, hopefully in the next few days. It is a substantive piece of information that we can tag on to our arbitration case and have it worked positively for us,” Del Rosario told reporters.
Del Rosario was referring to the incident which transpired last August 31 wherein Philippine authorities spotted three coast guard Chinese ships, as well as concrete blocks, in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The Chinese incursion was disclosed by the Department of National Defense before the House Appropriations panel.
Later in the hearing, Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta of the DFA Office for American Affairs revealed that the new framework agreement on increased rotational presence of American forces in Philippine soil will be focused on capacitating the Filipino forces against external threats, something that hasn’t been the center of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The VFA, inked between Manila and Washington in 1999, allows American troops to train their Philippine counterparts in anti-terrorism measures but prohibits the Americans from engaging in combat operations.
“The Balikatan [under the VFA]is focused on internal defense. The new framework is for external defense thru modernization of our equipment, use of radars and sophisticated use of air and naval assets because our military doesn’t have a lot of experience on this,” Sorreta pointed out.
The framework on increased rotational presence of American forces, Soreta furthered, would define every activity that the Philippine and US troops will engage in, and every activity should be approved by the Philippine side.
Having said that, Soreta revealed that the new joint venture with American forces will be longer than the month-long Balikatan exercises.
“This new pact is of high-value and high-impact. This is not about small arms or tactics because the movement of troops in internal defense is very different from external defense,” Sorreta added. LLANESCA T. PANTI