By Darryl John Esguerra

QUAD DRILLS. Photo taken from BRP Antonio Luna shows Australia’s HMAS Warramunga, USS Mobile and Japan’s JS Akebono conducting division tactics exercise or Officer of the Watch maneuver during the first Multilateral Maritime Cooperative Activity in the West Philippine Sea on Sunday (April 7, 2024). The naval assets also held communication and photo exercises. (Photo courtesy of BRP Antonio Luna FF-151)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday said he is hoping that Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) would now be avoided following the successful naval exercises among the Philippines, United States, Japan, and Australia.

In an interview in Bacolod City, Marcos said the first ever multilateral maritime cooperative activity (MMCA) would be very useful in enhancing interoperability among the allied countries.

“The cruises that we are doing, (those have) been planned for a long time. The interim reports that I am getting is that is very useful in terms of the interoperability so that each Navy knows how the other Navy operates, number one; and secondly that they learn how to operate together,” he said.

“So, maganda naman daw ang takbo (the exercises went well),” he added.

Asked if incidents involving China in the WPS can now be avoided following the successful naval drills, the President said: “I sincerely hope so. I really do. I really do, but again, we are trying everything. We still continue to talk at the ministerial level, at a sub-ministerial level, at a people-to-people level.”

“Lahat ng maaari nating gawin, ginagawa natin para maka-usap ang Chinese leadership, ang Beijing, maka-usap sila na ‘wag na natin masyadong papa-initin pa at mag-uusap tayo nang mabuti para walang banggaan, walang cannon, walang water cannon (We’re doing everything we can to talk to the Chinese leadership, and tell them not to heighten the tension and let’s just talk well so we can avoid collisions, water cannons),” he added.

‘Usual reaction’

Meanwhile, the President said it is only “normal” for China to respond to the joint maritime exercise by also showcasing its naval forces.

China reportedly conducted its own “combat patrols” in the region the same day that the MMCA was conducted.

“That’s the usual reaction from the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Maglalabas din sila ng kanilang barko. (They will also deploy their ships) So, it’s almost normal,” Marcos said in the same interview.

The latest China aggression happened on March 23 when its coast guard vessel water cannoned a Philippine supply ship en route to Ayungin shoal, a maritime feature within the WPS.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including territories in the WPS that are well within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled to dismiss China’s sweeping claims to the waterway. Beijing refused to acknowledge the ruling. (PNA)