By Filane Mikee Cervantes

ON REGIONAL PEACE. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. addresses concerns about potential conflicts in the South China Sea and discusses the country’s military modernization to promote regional peace, during the question-and-answer portion of the 21st International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday (May 31, 2024). Marcos was the first Philippine leader to deliver a keynote message at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense forum(Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Office) 

MANILA – The killing of a Filipino in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid escalating tensions would be very close to an “act of war,” President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the 21st International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday, Marcos said the Philippine government would act accordingly if tensions in the disputed waters and China’s aggressive actions, such as the use of water cannons, result in the death of a Filipino citizen.

“What would happen if there was an incident that ended up killing a Filipino serviceman, be it a Coast Guard or in the military and part of the Navy. Well, that would be – that would certainly increase the level of response and if by a willful act on a Filipino, not only serviceman but even a Filipino citizen. If a Filipino citizen is killed by a willful act, that is I think a very, very close to what we define as an act of war and, therefore, we will respond accordingly,” he said.

Marcos made the remark when asked what actions would trigger the Philippine government to invoke the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

He noted that such incidents would increase the level of response not only from the Philippine government but also from its “treaty partners.” 

“We already have suffered injury, but thank God, we have not yet gotten to the point where any of our participants, civilian or otherwise, have been killed,” the President said.

“But once we get to that point, that is certainly we would have crossed the Rubicon and certainly crossed the Rubicon. Is that a red line? Almost certainly it’s going to be a red line.”  

PH boosting military capability for defense, peace

When asked about his vision for the force posture of the Philippines by the end of his term, Marcos said the Philippines would build its defense capabilities to protect its sovereignty and territory against any aggression from another country.

Marcos said the country is in the process of finding suppliers for its modernization program called Horizon 3.

“We are hoping that these acts are just a deterrence to work for peace. It has been going on for many years now – this long-term plan of increasing the capabilities of our military and civilians, such as the Coast Guard in the Philippines,” he said.

Marcos, however, emphasized in his keynote address that the country would continue to invest in diplomacy.

“The Philippines remains committed to the cause of peace, upon which our constitutional order is premised. We are committed to addressing and managing difficult issues through dialogue and through diplomacy,” he said.

Marcos made history as the first Philippine leader to deliver a keynote address before the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, the leading defense and security conference in the Asia-Pacific region.

In his speech, he reiterated that he will not give up a single inch of the nation’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the WPS as it is the lifeblood of every Filipino.

“In this solid footing and through our clear moral ascendancy, we find the strength to do whatever it takes to protect our sovereign home – to the last square inch, to the last square millimeter. The life-giving waters of the West Philippine Sea flow in the blood of every Filipino,” Marcos said.

“We cannot allow anyone to detach it from the totality of the maritime domain that renders our nation whole. As President, I have sworn to this solemn commitment from the very first day that I took office. I do not intend to yield. Filipinos do not yield.”

The President also emphasized that any action in the South China Sea must conform to international-based order.

“Finally, any effort to resolve maritime differences in the East China Sea and the South China Sea must be anchored on international law, particularly UNCLOS, we must accord due regard to the legitimate interest of all parties, and respect legally-settled rights,” he said.

Marcos was referring to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), or “The Law of the Sea Convention,” which serves as the basis of the Philippines in the implementation of laws of the sea as far as the WPS is concerned.

The dialogue was attended by Singapore’s officials, among them President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, and Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong; IISS Executive Chairman British Sir John Chipman; and government officials of the Philippines and other countries around the world. (PNA)