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Ahead of the curve

Manila Standard

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s statement the Philippines will not use force or intimidation, inflict injury or harm anyone, amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea rustles like a breath of fresh air.

“We are not in the business to instigate wars– our great ambition is to provide a peaceful and prosperous life for every Filipino,” the President said during the Talk To Troops at the Western Command Headquarters in Camp General Artemio Ricarte in Puerto Princesa.

The President was in Palawan, six days after Filipinos on a rotation and resupply mission were injured in a ramming incident between China Coast Guard and Filipino boats.

It was the latest and most serious incident in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to nearly all of the strategic watercourse.

The CCG deemed its moves as “control measures” in line with its mythical nine-dash line claim of sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, including most of the West Philippine Sea, despite a 2016 international tribunal ruling that effectively dismissed its claims stemming from a case filed by Manila in 2013.

The Philippines has its BRP Sierra Madre where Marine troops live on since 1999 in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, with Beijing demanding its removal, such demand rejected by Manila.

The confrontation has stoked up concern the dispute could drag in the United States, which has a mutual defense pact with Manila.

Only last year, Pentagon said: “The guidelines reaffirm that an armed attack in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea, on either of their public vessels, aircraft, or armed forces – which includes their Coast Guards – would invoke mutual defense commitments under Articles IV and V of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Some security analysts have detected China’s actions – described by Beijing as “professional and restrained” – show the bigger nation has “harmful intentions,” given its ongoing anti-trespassing rule which encroaches on the West Philippine Sea.

Manila accused the Chinese Coast Guard of wielding knives, sticks and axe and stealing or damaging their equipment including guns and inflatable boats.

In previous confrontations Chinese forces used water cannon and military-grade lasers and collided with Filipino resupply vessels and their escorts.

“We have never, never in the history of the Philippines, yielded to any foreign power,” Marcos said to applause, while pledging to “continue to exercise our freedoms and rights in support of our national interest, in accordance with international law”.

But President Marcos stressed: “Our calm and peaceful disposition should not be mistaken for acquiescence.”

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