China has been flexing its political and military muscle not only in the land dispute with Japan, but also with the Philippines. China has claimed certain reef structures in the South China Sea, and continued putting pressure on the Philippines by conducting regular and disrupting naval patrols in the area.
History of Kalayaan Island Group
There has been a lack of political will and approach to the security in the West Philippine Sea regarding China’s ever increasing presence and expansion activities in the region. If the previous Philippine administrations after the late President Ferdinand Marcos choose to allow their military presence to increase in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) instead of focusing on other priorities, the current security landscape in the region would look completely different. It’s now become an already irreversible occupation by the Chinese military.
Since the establishment of the town Pag-Asa on the island Kalayaan in 1972, which is the second biggest natural island in the region that is being disputed, the national government has done very little to develop the area except through sustaining their troop numbers in all of the 7 occupied islets and 2 reefs.
Mayor of Kalayaan, Eugenio Bito-onon Jr.has been lobbying the government’s top political leaders and those ministers that held key positions in the security and defense sectors with a plan of development in the area. Bito-onon has proposed the development of the island town with the construction of a safe marina that supports the local government tourist programs that could be made popular. Bito-onon has also seeked the transformation of the entire island onto a revolutionary fishing hub.
The Mayor Bito-onon, should have got all the support he needed from the national government, but it never came. All the previous recommendations that game from the national government military planners to Cesar Garcia, a National Security Adviser, had not been acted upon.
It hasn’t been the fault of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), several junior officers as well as middle grade ranked ones have expressed a disappointment in the government’s role of taking firm action addressing China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea.
China’s Philippine Expansion
China has powered ahead with its own infrasturce development on the 7 artificial islets that it has deemed its own from the 7 reefs that it had previously occupied. The majority of this artificial expansion has been undertaken in the first half of 2015. Although the Philippine military can still conduct patrols in the area, this will become difficult once China’s military infrastructure becomes fully operational.
There is very little that can be done at this late stage now that China is flexing its muscle. The hope that a diplomatic solution will come to a conclusion is not on the cards yet. To promote peace, the Philippines military have hatched a plan to provide tourist access to the islands close to the disputed areas. They will be providing locals on the island of Thitu, which is one of the largest islands in the region, with their own ferry service to and from the islands, with plans to build lodging houses for tourists too. Soldiers from the national military have conducted a flag raising ceremony during the visit of the Pag-asa island by the military General Gregorio Pio Catapang.
Collaboration With Japan
The Philippines naval chief has stated that they will be holding joint exercises with Japan in the South China Sea. Although not publicly announced as a seeking of closer ties in the region with allies amid Chinese aggression, this is exactly what it is.
Japan will send 2 warships from their Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), to take part in exercises with a single ship from the Phillipines after the make a port call in the Philippines. This would give sailors and military assets the chance to compare notes and strategies about situations that could happen in the region, while helping modernize the Philippine military which is one of the most poorly equipped in the region.