Philippine Coast Guard personnel documents a Chinese Coast Guard vessel shadowing the Philippines’ resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, March 5, 2024. — REUTERS

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz and John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporters

WORKING for peace in disputed waters would require the Philippines to ramp up its military modernization to deter China’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea, a renowned analyst said on Wednesday.

“The chance for peace is higher if the Philippines actually beefs up its armed forces for more credible self-defense, sustains its joint patrol activities in the South China Sea, and broadens its alliances with other friendly nations,” GlobalSource Partners country analyst Diwa C. Guinigundo said in a brief.

Citing a statement from the United States (US) Indo-Pacific Command, Mr. Guinigundo noted that the Philippines may invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty with the US if China’s harassment results in the death of a sailor or military personnel.

“It will indeed be uglier if cooler heads do not prevail, and raw force is deployed outside the perimeter of international law,” said Mr. Guinigundo, a former central bank deputy governor.

In an earlier brief, Mr. Guinigundo said the Philippines may experience a major power crisis if it cannot exploit oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea due to Chinese aggression.

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, a body of water known to have untapped oil and natural gas reserves.

The Philippines is looking to conduct more joint patrols with the United States after the two countries executed military drills with Japan and Australia last month.

“During joint patrols with other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) claimants in the South China Sea, or with other friendly governments of Japan, Australia or even India, if China should take the offensive, such an aggressive and emboldened act could definitely escalate the maritime disputes,” Mr. Guinigundo said.

Interviewed in Manila on Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said the Philippines is still open to forging official development assistance (ODA) deals for government projects with China despite heightened tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea.

“We also open with China, but late we have not received that many offers (for ODA projects) from China on this,” he said.

The Marcos government has withdrawn from loan negotiations with China for three major railway projects worth at least P228 billion amid worsening tensions over their sea dispute.

Last week, the Philippines and Japan signed loan agreements to equip the Philippine Coast with modern equipment and scholarships for Filipinos.

Manila and the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed loan deals worth ¥250 billion (P93 billion) for the construction of the Metro Manila Subway and the Dalton Pass East Alignment, which will link San Jose City in Nueva Ecija to Aritao in Nueva Vizcaya, both in northern Philippines.

Meanwhile, former Vice Admiral and chief of the Philippine military’s Western Command Alberto B. Carlos on Wednesday denied striking a deal with a Chinese envoy or any foreign diplomat on a “new model” on handling the situation in the South China Sea.

At the Senate National Defense Committee hearing looking into an alleged wiretapped conversation and disinformation drive launched by China, Mr. Carlos said he only had a short “casual and informal” telephone conversation with a “Colonel Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Manila in January on how to ease tensions amid blocked resupply missions in Second Thomas Shoal, which Manila calls Ayungin.

“I did not forge any agreement at the level and magnitude that would bind our two countries for the long term and redefine foreign policy,” he said. “I have not compromised the country’s territorial integrity. I have not given up our sovereign rights and entitlements.”

The former commander also denied consenting to having their conversation recorded.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a Viber message from reporters seeking comment.

Beijing earlier threatened to release the transcript and recordings of a conversation supposedly between Mr. Carlos and a Chinese diplomat about a new model agreed upon over the shoal in which the Philippines would deploy fewer vessels in resupply missions to its troops stationed there.

Mr. Carlos said he would be willing to divulge his conversation with Colonel Li from the Chinese Embassy in a closed-door executive session with senators.

He added that the supposed embassy official reached out to him last Monday through text message, but he did not respond to it.