After missing out in his speech and amid Indonesia’s taking of a strong approach against China’s intrusions, the new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff has found a way to cement his commitment to safeguard and maintain the defense of Philippine territories in the South China (West Philippine) Sea.
chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.. Photo by Armed Forces of the Philippines
According to the military’s unusual release, its chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. has ordered the “continued protection, defense and security of the country against foreign intrusions” within the Philippines’ territories.
On Wednesday, the military held a command conference that lasted for several hours in Camp Aguinaldo, according to a source.
Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City is the national headquarters of the AFP.
The AFP said Santos had issued his guidance, which was aimed “at further enhancing the military’s effectiveness and organizational excellence.”
“[T]he AFP chief ordered the reinforcement of maritime and air domain awareness particularly in sea lanes of communications, Philippine Defense Area of Operations and Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone,” the military said in the release on Thursday night.
“The AFP shall also continue to monitor developments in the Spratlys, particularly the facilities and structures constructed and military hardware and defense systems installed/deployed in these areas,” it added.
Because of this, Santos called for the creation of an intelligence network and communication system for “timely reporting” regarding the situation in the hotly contested West Philippine Sea.
He directed troops to support “national efforts” in Philippine waters against illegal fishing and poaching, as well as support law enforcement against transnational crime and island encroaching and building.
At the same time, Santos called for “sustained support to national policy and defense agenda that aim to develop a credible force and strengthen capabilities on occupied features” within the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratly Group of Islands).
Some previous AFP chiefs had been evasive on the question pertaining to territorial disputes, deferring to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
This was amid the softened stance of President Rodrigo Duterte on China when it came to the ongoing disput, believing that a war may erupt should the Philippines make a move to avoid the continued presence of Chinese militias and naval ships on Philippine-owned islands.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, personally went to Natuna Island where the supposed trespassing of Chinese ships took place, leaving the vessels from Beijing to flee the area while Jakarta takes a much stronger approach.