By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THE GOVERNMENT of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should learn from its regional peers that managed to reclaim land from disputed features in the South China despite tensions with China, according to security analysts.

“Other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) claimants are able to manage their differences with China in choppy waters better and it may be helpful for Manila to consider their experience and practice,” Lucio B. Pitlo III, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Vietnam, for instance, is doing major reclamation works with little reported disruption from Beijing, and Malaysia is on track to open a new gas field this year,” he pointed out.

He added that these countries have kept strong economic ties with China by “insulating economics from disputes.”

Mr. Marcos told foreign journalists in April that his government is looking at exploring gas reserves in nonconflict areas within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the waterway, amid the looming depletion of the Malampaya gas field’s reserves.

The gas field, which supplies a fifth of the country’s power requirements, is expected to run dry by 2027.

The President said Manila is likely to pursue these ventures with corporations since the country does not have the technology to do large-scale heavy engineering in exploring these areas.

Senate President Francis “Chiz” G. Escudero has said Manila should hold more dialogues with ASEAN on its sea dispute with China, noting that diplomacy is still its best option to ease tensions.

But political analysts at the weekend said the Philippines should temper its expectations for ASEAN under the leadership of Malaysia to support its case in its sea dispute with China.

Philippine officials who push security measures focused on ASEAN’s ways should consider the bloc’s “long track record of failing to respond to maritime security issues,” said Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sovereignty.

China claims almost all of the vital waterway, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. A United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Hague in 2016 voided China claims for being illegal.

“What the Senate President is saying is nothing new,” Aaron Jed Rabena, who specializes in geopolitics and foreign policy at the University of the Philippines Asian Center, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “In fact, in most ASEAN-led regional security mechanisms, we raised the issue of the South China Sea and the Code of Conduct.”

He said Philippine trade with China is expected to flourish despite the tensions.

“Yes, Filipinos are very resentful of what China is doing in the West Philippine Sea,” he said “At the same time, we see [the tensions] not yet spilling over in the business realm. I don’t think Filipinos have developed a conscious attempt to boycott Chinese products and services. We can see that Filipinos can compartmentalize.”

Data from Tradeline Philippines showed that trade between the Philippines and China reached $40.3 billion last year, up 2.9% from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, political analysts said political elites who were on board the pivot to China under the previous government threaten Philippine efforts to shift to external defense from internal security.

“The rapacious appetite of public officials to steal from the public coffers is the biggest threat to strengthening our defense capabilities,” said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center.

“The effort to boost our external defense capabilities will be scuttled if we allow rapacious public officials to steal money dedicated for this purpose.”

As part of a military modernization program that began in 2012, Mr. Marcos in May approved a wish-list of military procurement worth about $35 billion that will be spent in the next 10 years.

As the Philippines celebrated Independence Day on Wednesday, he cited the “tenacity of our soldiers as they protect every inch of our territory” and said “Filipinos do not, and shall never, succumb to oppression.”

“We are already seeing the shift to external defense, especially when the navy was given the lion’s share of the recent defense budget,” Don Mclain Gill, who teaches international relations at De La Salle University, said via Messenger chat.   

“More needs to be done to sustain a whole-of-government approach to address emerging maritime security issues,” he said, adding that the country should continue to work with partners “to enhance interoperability and preparedness to exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights more effectively.”

Hansley A. Juliano, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said the government should allot a bigger budget for its navy, air force and coast guard.   

“These offices are the least tied to internal security and are the ones most likely to be roped in external tussles,” he said via Messenger chat.

“Military and service careers must have competitive salaries — it would not be enough to simply invoke patriotism, more so that it’s been exploited for decades now,” he added.

Anthony Borja, a political science professor at De La Salle, said the country’s shift to external defense has been “a matter of political elites figuring out where the Philippines is located in the greater regional and global spheres, and what our role is.”

“On one hand, there are those who would like to keep their heads in the sand by downplaying our role in global politics and giving primacy to a sense of security through appeasement and nonconfrontation,” he said via Messenger chat.

On the other hand, there are groups aligned with the Marcos government that promote a united front against Chinese aggression, he added.

“In the end, we must ask ordinary citizens which sources of threat they actually consider as more serious — domestic or foreign?”