New Philippine defense chief sees ‘no problem’ with joint US patrols in South China Sea

Jeoffrey Maitem
New Philippine defense chief sees ‘no problem’ with joint US patrols in South China Sea A Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Melchora Aquino takes part in joint law enforcement drills with the U.S. Coast Guard ship Stratton in the South China Sea, June 6, 2021.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

The Philippines’ newly appointed defense minister on Wednesday struck a defiant tone in his first public comments on the job, saying he saw no problem in holding joint patrols with the United States in the South China Sea and that Manila’s defense arrangements were “nobody else’s business.”

Gilberto Teodoro’s appointment as defense chief this week comes at a time of growing tension in the South China Sea, an important maritime trade route that is subject to territorial claims by five countries, as well as Taiwan.

Teodoro replaces ex-military chief Carlito Galvez, who has held the portfolio in an acting capacity since the beginning of the year.

The former lawmaker, who has close family ties to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also served as defense minister under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“If we are to respect the law of the sea, there should be no problem in holding joint patrols in internationally-recognized sea lanes,” Teodoro said in an interview with local cable news channel ANC. “That should be no problem and it’s no provocation whatsoever.”

He said he would be discussing the issue with the government’s entire security apparatus.

Joint patrols between the Philippines and the U.S. have been a topic of discussion since Marcos Jr. assumed power last year, breaking with his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of appeasing China. 

Marcos has sought to develop closer military ties with Washington and in May made a trip to Washington to meet with President Joe Biden, the first visit by a Philippine leader in about a decade. He has also been more vocal in condemning China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Newly appointed Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. speaks with reporters on June 7, 2023. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

Teodoro said that his job was first and foremost about building up the Philippines’ credible deterrence.

“The way that we build up our credible deterrent is our business and nobody else’s business,” he said. “Whether we partner with country X or Y in order to build up our own core strength is a question for the Philippines, just like we do not question the building up of – not even defense capabilities – but offensive capabilities.”

Teodoro said the Philippines’ efforts to bolster defense capabilities should not be tied to Taiwan or any other issue.

He did not mention China by name, but Beijing had been highly critical of Manila’s recent decision to allow the U.S. greater access to four Philippine bases, including in provinces facing Taiwan. 

Washington has also allocated more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at five military sites previously approved for American access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Signed in 2014, the EDCA supplements the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 1999 bilateral pact providing legal cover for large-scale joint military exercises between the U.S. and Philippines, Washington’s longtime defense ally in the contested South China Sea region.

Teodoro said that the Philippines was “not a pawn of anybody else in the geopolitical battle.”

At a turnover ceremony later on Wednesday afternoon, Teodoro said that “our territory is our territory.”

“The UNCLOS, the basis of that, cannot be changed by passage of time nor changes in the administration,” he told reporters, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS was the basis for a 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines and against China’s sweeping historical claims to the South China Sea. China has since refused to acknowledge the ruling. 

Along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

The Philippine, U.S. and Japanese coast guards held their first trilateral exercises in the disputed waters this week. About 100 U.S. Coast Guard personnel, 200 from the Philippine Coast Guard and 70 from the Japan Coast Guard took part in Tuesday’s mock counter-terrorist drill off the Bataan Peninsula in western Luzon island. 


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.