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Philippines in China’s sight amid its conflict with Taiwan, Marcos warns

PHILIPPINE STAR/KJ ROSALES

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. asked the armed forces to prepare as his country faces growing risks from tensions in the Indo-Pacific region including China’s aggression in the Taiwan Strait.

The Philippines’ proximity to Taiwan puts it in China’s “area of interest,” Mr. Marcos warned during his visit to a military camp in Isabela, one of the Northern Luzon provinces facing Taiwan, which has been independent of China since the 1950s.

“The external threat now has become more pronounced and has become more worrisome. And that is why we have to prepare [for any eventuality],” he said, based on a press release from his office.

“That is the mission that you have before you. Now, you have two missions, whereas before it was only internal security,” he added.

The Philippines needs to “reorient” its security thinking and must be fully committed to defending its territory while pursuing diplomatic means to keep peace in the region, Mr. Maros said.

China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, also claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety including areas that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“We are not trying to take territory. We are not trying to redraw the lines of sovereign territory, the EEZ, the baseline,” the Philippine leader said. “We are not changing anything, not even one inch. But we cannot agree that it will be taken away from us.”

Mr. Marcos said the mission of an infantry` division of the Philippine Army based in Isabela now includes territorial defense.

He said emerging threats compelled him to make Cagayan, another Northern Luzon province facing Taiwan, a site under the Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States.

On Tuesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it is taking comprehensive measures as it transitions to external defense from internal security.

“Of course, we modernize our equipment, our armaments, and of course, also train our troops,” AFP spokesperson Francel Padilla said at a news briefing.

The Philippines last year gave the US access to four more military bases on top of the five existing sites under their 2014 EDCA, and US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin told Mr. Marcos in a meeting in Washington in April that the Biden administration was seeking a $128-million budget to execute projects under the defense pact.

Three of the new EDCA sites are in parts of northern Luzon facing Taiwan, while one is on the island of Palawan facing the South China Sea.

China last month launched military drills around Taiwan days after Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te took office, prompting the Philippine migrant affairs department to prepare measures for migrant Filipino workers in Taiwan in case of a potential China invasion.

Robin Michael U. Garcia, founder of WR Numero and a political economy professor at University of Asia and the Pacific, earlier told BusinessWorld that China’s aggression in Taiwan Strait should be a major defense issue for the Philippines as it may strengthen Beijing’s presence in the South China Sea.

Manila should not only talk about repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan amid escalating Chinese aggression in parts of Taiwan, which is just over 300 kilometers away from the northernmost province of Batanes, he said.

“Beyond the repatriation issue — a very, very important issue — we have to go beyond that and think that Taiwan is a defense issue for the Philippines,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a security forum near the capital Manila.

“It’s actually a defense issue. That if there’s an impending or imminent occupation of Taiwan, the conflict will spill over to Luzon,” he added, “and Manila is in Luzon.”

“So even if you actually successfully repatriate the Philippines back to the Philippines, the war and the conflict might actually be in Luzon,” he added.  “So that’s something that we have to talk about.”

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