Congress must fast-track maritime defense bills and publicize it — expert

Congress must fast-track maritime defense bills and publicize it — expert

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

CONGRESS should push for the passage of measures that would establish and protect the country’s maritime zones in the South China Sea and build better security ties with the Philippines’ regional partners, policy experts said.

“The ultimate goal for Congress is to make us a maritime powerhouse in our region,” Michael Henry L. Yusingco, a lawyer and a policy analyst, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill seeking to boost the country’s defense program through investments in local defense equipment manufacturing amid rising tensions with China. The program will get P1 billion in seed funding.

Mr. Yusingco said lawmakers should ensure that progress in developing the Philippine defense industry is publicized and receiving inputs from national security experts.

“The P1-billion seed money is a good start, but the public needs to be assured that this money will be spent the right way and for the correct purpose. Hence, there is a need for the bill to be subjected to public scrutiny,” he said.

Lawmakers have also proposed measures establishing Philippine maritime zones and territories extending to disputed areas in the South China Sea.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino had said that the Senate Special Committee on Maritime and Admiralty Zones which he heads would craft a Philippine map to assert the country’s claim in the disputed waterway.

Hansley A. Juliano, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said the government should ensure that planned infrastructure in the South China Sea is made accessible to local government units.

“Our fishing communities much-persecuted by the Chinese are already hostile to outsiders, it’s just a matter of keeping them onside and willing to support government action in the area,” he told BusinessWorld. “Investments and development there will make them loyal and more valuable, giving greater incentive to defend them.”

China insists on its claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of commercial shipping annually, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

“We need to build better ties with East Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors, as well as others in the Pacific region and make them value ties with us more than China,” Mr. Juliano said.

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on the phone with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A.  Manalo to tackle recent incidents with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.

“Secretary Blinken underscored the United States’ ironclad commitments to the Philippines under our Mutual Defense Treaty,” the US Department of State said in a statement.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Medel M. Aguilar on Wednesday rebuked China’s previous claims that the Philippines is provoking tensions in the South China Sea.