US commander vows support for Philippines

3
 US Vice Admiral Robert Thomas Jr., commander of the Seventh Fleet, speaks during a press briefing aboard the USS Blue Ridge. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

US Vice Admiral Robert Thomas Jr., commander of the Seventh Fleet, speaks during a press briefing aboard the USS Blue Ridge. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

The US Pacific commander on Tuesday emphasized the Philippines’ importance as a military ally, as Filipino forces were involved in an increasingly tense standoff with Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“Our 62-year alliance with the Philippines remains key to our efforts to ensure the stability and prosperity of the Western Pacific,” Rear Admiral Robert Thomas told reporters in Manila.

He sailed to the Philippine capital on Tuesday aboard his command ship, the USS Blue Ridge, days after the latest of a series of hostile encounters between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea.

China said its coastguard on March 9 blocked two Philippine-flagged vessels approaching Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, which is guarded by a small group of Filipino marines but is also claimed by China.


The Philippine military evaded the blockade by airdropping supplies to the troops.

The shoal is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sit near key shipping lanes, surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are also believed to lie atop huge oil and gas reserves.

They are around 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and about 1,100 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass.

China claims most of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its neighbors.

The Philippines grounded an old navy ship at Ayungin in 1999, four years after China built structures on a nearby Filipino-claimed reef. Filipino troops have kept a presence on the ship ever since.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei warned that China “will never allow any form of occupation” of the shoal.

He repeated an allegation, denied by Manila, that the Philippine vessels were bringing construction materials there on March 9.

“China watches closely and is highly vigilant on further possible provocations in the South China Sea by the Philippines and it must bear all the consequences arising therefrom,” Hong said.

Asked what the US 7th Fleet would do to help the Filipino marines, Thomas said he did not wish to address “hypothetical” scenarios, but then highlighted his country’s 1951 mutual defense pact with Manila.

“And so without going into the hypotheticals, what I would offer is that the 7th Fleet is going to support this alliance. Period,” he said.

The pact binds each country to come to the other’s aid if its armed forces or ships are attacked on the Pacific.

However, Malacañang reiterated that Ayungin shoal is part of the Philippine territory.

“The Philippines reiterates that Ayungin Shoal is part of its continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Share.
.
Loading...

Please follow our commenting guidelines.

3 Comments

  1. Correct me if I am wrong. If I remember right it was the Estrada presidency who did not want the lease renewed not the Americans abandoning the bases per “nito” (previous poster). If I am right; the American bases presence could have served as a big deterrence to all foreign as well as local intimidation.

  2. This must be difficult moment for the country’s present administration to choose the path to follow, for one; an on going discussion with the Americans to accommodate their forces as it pivots to the pacific, with the increasing pressure from the Chinese intruding the territories, and some political party opposing the accommodation of the American’s position for variety of reasons. All of these could not have happened, if the Americans did not leave following the volcanic eruption, virtually abandoned the bases, leading to voiding the lease? having said that, I think majority of the Filipinos still support the Americans presence in the country. If push comes to shove, you know that the Americans will support you either way, however if majority of the citizens, still believe in American deterrence, and good well that it can help the country, perhaps a constitutional amendment is needed to revive the voided American bases issue, to make it legal and constitutional.

  3. If China is 1,100 kilometers away from its nearest major land mass to the Ayungin shoal, what is she doing there then (in the Philippine Archipelago)? That distance is much more than 200 nautical miles from China’s nearest shore. Needless to say that while China is known for being a country of mathematicians, philosophers, teachers, thinkers like Confucius for instance, its behavior, however toward her neighbors, particularly the Philippines does not conform to that distinction at all. It’s like a hungry dog that wanders around the neighbor’s yard in search for badly needed food in order to survive, thus fits the category/praise: ‘dog to dog life existence by hook or by crook – no matter what.’ Nonetheless, such irrational actuation of a country such as China is very detrimental to the sanctity of world peace and freedom.