Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. delivers at a speech at the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Australia on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. — BONGBONG MARCOS/ FACEBOOK

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. told the Australian parliament on Thursday he would not allow any foreign power to take “one square inch” of the country’s territory, and that Manila was firm in defending its sovereignty.

“I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory,” he said in a speech.

Australia and the Philippines started their first joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea in November, aimed at countering an increasingly assertive China, which claims the entire sea as its own.

The South China Sea is a conduit for more than $3 trillion (P168.5 trillion) worth of ship-borne commerce each year and is a major source of tension between the Philippines and China.

The Philippines accuses China of committing aggressive acts inside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A United Nations-backed arbitration court based in the Hague in 2016 ruled that China’s claims inside the Philippines’ EEZ had no legal basis — a decision Beijing has rejected.

China has chided the Philippines for encroaching on what it says is its territory.

Protecting the area is important to global stability, Mr. Marcos said.

“The protection of the South China Sea as a vital, critical global artery is crucial to the preservation of regional peace and, I dare say, of global peace,” he said. “We have an abiding interest in keeping our seas free and open, and in ensuring unimpeded passage and freedom of navigation.”

Mr. Marcos said the Philippines is now on the frontline of a battle to keep stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

He issued the remarks as the Philippines and Australia signed deals to boost their ties in the maritime domain and critical technology.

“As in 1942, the Philippines now finds itself on the frontline against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability and threaten regional success,” according to a copy of his speech provided by the presidential palace.

“Then as now, the security and continued prosperity of the region — of countries like Australia — relies upon that effort,” he added.

One of the deals signed by the two countries seek to enhance information-sharing and interoperability between their maritime agencies, Mr. Marcos said in a press briefing with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Norman Albanese. 

The second deal seeks to promote the open and secure use of cyberspace between the two countries, while the third calls for cooperation between their national competition commissions.

Under the deal, the two countries would share practices and pursue capacity-building “on matters involving merger regulations, competition laws and investigative techniques relevant to implementing competition laws,” the palace said in a statement.

Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said Philippine efforts to expose Chinese bullying in the South China Sea has been “yielding tangible gains.”

“President Marcos’ approach to the West Philippine Sea requires strong international support,” he said in an X message. “He has been pushing for expanded joint patrols involving not just the US but also other regional military powers like Japan and Australia.”

Jeffrey Ordaniel, director for maritime security at Pacific Forum and an associate professor of international security studies at the Tokyo International University, said deepening Philippine-Australia ties could lead to a four-way security deal involving the US and Japan. 

“Closer Australia-Japan, Philippine-Japan and Philippine-Australia relations are prerequisites to forming a more formal quadrilateral coordination on common security concerns, in particular challenges in the South China Sea and over China’s potential invasion of Taiwan,” he told BusinessWorld in an X message.

“Japan and Australia are already important security assistance providers of the Philippines, complementing US efforts in enabling Manila to play bigger security roles,” he added.

Australia should push its defense companies to help the Philippines find its niche in the global arms trade, Joshua Bernard B. Espeña, vice president at Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Don Mclain Gill, who teaches international relations at De La Salle University, said Philippine-Australian partnership has grown tenfold given their shared goal of keeping the Indo-Pacific free.

Mr. Marcos was in Australia on an official visit, before he attends a special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Melbourne next week. — with Reuters