By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters
THE PHILIPPINE Senate expressed support for the country’s defense agencies, along with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), vowing to increase their budgets to sufficiently upgrade maritime security capability amid tensions with China in the South China Sea .
“The Senate is one and united in assisting your budgets and increasing your funds for proper equipment for the West Philippine Sea situation,” Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said at Tuesday’s joint committee hearing on matters of the South China Sea.
Mr. Zubiri gave the Senate’s commitment to back funding requirements for the PCG and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “whether it be confidential, intelligence funds or funding that will give you proper equipment for your needs in the West Philippine Sea.”
He noted that senators had already planned to transfer the confidential funds of government agencies that do not need them to the National Security Agency and other intelligence-gathering bodies of the state.
Senator Francis T. Tolentino said a newly formed Senate Maritime and Admiralty Zones Committee on Sept. 14 would tackle proposals establishing Philippine maritime zones, archipelagic sea leans, and boosting the country’s archipelagic defense.
Meanwhile, Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told the same hearing that a United States aircraft did not violate international law when it was deployed to monitor a Philippine resupply mission last week.
JOINT FILIPINO-US TROOPS MUST BE STATIONED IN SCS — ANALYST
An international security analyst is urging the Philippine government to replace the BRP Sierra Madre — the rusty World War II-era ship grounded at Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) to serve as a military outpost in the South China Sea (SCS) — with a permanent structure that will be manned by Filipino and American troops.
Blake Herzinger, a research fellow in the Foreign Policy and Defense Program at the United States Studies Center, noted that China might exploit the deteriorating condition of BRP Sierra Madre, which was intentionally run aground in the shoal in 1999.
“The United States and the Philippines should act before being forced to react to deteriorating conditions aboard the ship,” he said in analysis published by Texas National Security Review, noting that failure to do so would create conditions “for loss of Philippine sovereignty, a reenactment of China’s seizure of the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal in 2012.”
A possible conflict in the shoal in the future could also create a crisis within the bilateral US-Philippine alliance, he added.
“The Philippines should remove the Sierra Madre and replace it with a permanent structure manned by combined rotational forces from both the Philippines and the US Marine Corps,” Mr. Herzinger said, noting that a combined outpost could deter Beijing’s efforts to block resupply missions in the West Philippine Sea.
He said that while a more muscular approach could lead to increased tension “given the Chinese military’s considerable force presence in the area,” “the coercive tactics long employed against littoral states in the region would be less effective against the US Navy, which could dispel the image of Chinese forces enjoying unchallenged dominance in the region.”
Mr. Herzinger said the best structure to replace the World War II-era vessel would be “a repurposed oil platform, oil rig, or accommodation platform.”
“Development of a combined facility would require a ready-made structure able to quickly replace the Sierra Madre immediately following its removal,” he said.
“Or, alternatively, the new facility could be emplaced as an upgraded living structure for the marines living aboard it, with the Sierra Madre to be disassembled after the new outpost is installed,” he added.
Meanwhile, the security expert said Beijing will likely physically challenge the emplacement of a platform with elements from its navy, coast guard, or maritime militia.
But a significant show of US naval and air power during the emplacement of the facility “would force Beijing to shoulder risk and be a step toward reversing years of unimpeded aggression,” Mr. Herzinger said.