PH-US joint maritime patrols in West PH Sea ‘on the table’ – envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 24) — Discussions on future maritime cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, including possible joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea, are underway, Manila's Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said Tuesday.

In an interview on the sidelines of the Makati Business Club board meeting, Romualdez said the joint patrols with the US is among the topics constantly being discussed by defense and foreign affairs officials of both countries.

“We will continue to improve that [military] alliance including the joint patrols if we need to do that, but as I’ve said the cooperation between the Philippines and the United States is very solid,” said Romualdez.

The envoy said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is always ready to support proposals that will benefit the country and help in enhancing the defense capabilities of the Philippines.

Romualdez, however, declined to expound more on the status of the joint patrol talks and whether it will start anytime soon amid ongoing tensions in the contested waters.

“We are looking at all possibilities in terms of enhancing our capabilities. Joint patrols is like the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement), we have joint exercises, joint patrols will be part of that agreement with the US, we will let you know when the patrols will take place, but it’s on the table,” Romualdez said. “Pinag-uusapan at malalim ang pinag-uusapan [Talks are ongoing and they are in-depth talks]."

The idea of joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea was also floated by former ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. who noted that Beijing’s continuous activities and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea remain a cause for concern in the region.

“My suggestion is joint Philippine-US patrols. We’re quite concerned about the actions taken by China and only the US can help the Philippines counter such aggressive stance taken by China,” Cuisia added.

United States Ambassador MaryKay Carlson also said that Washington is ready to engage with the Philippines regarding more maritime cooperation but any actions should be a collaborative and consultative endeavor.

“We’re certainly working with the Philippine Coast Guard in that regard whether it’s joint patrols or any other activities but the important thing is it will be done in conjunction with our Philippine partners,” said Carlson.

“Our two militaries have a long history of very solid cooperation. We have close to 500 engagements, some of these large engagements like Balikatan, that involved thousands of soldiers and airmen and marines on both sides,” she added.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said an agreement to hold joint patrols between Manila and Washington in the disputed South China Sea was approved in 2016 by both the Philippines and US, but the plan was shelved during the time of then President Rodrigo Duterte.