With one of the world’s most extensive coastlines, the country should have given priority a long time ago to guarding its territorial waters. For nearly a century that task was undertaken by American troops based in the Philippines, and this probably lulled the country into complacency. When the US bases were shut down, the Philippines had no Plan B for policing its own waters.
Shortly after the Americans left, the Chinese moved in, building a military installation on Mischief Reef off Palawan. All that Manila could do was emit a noisy protest. The installation is still there, straddling endangered coral networks, flying the Chinese flag.
Now that Chinese vessels have also shooed away Filipino fishermen from Panatag Shoal, a traditional fishing ground of Zambales, the Philippines is scrambling to upgrade its capability to monitor its coastal waters.
China, which already occupies one of the largest landmasses on the planet, is laying claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, leaving the other countries around it with just enough territorial waters for use by beach resorts. And Beijing, with its new wealth and increasing military capability, is flexing its muscles, showing that it is prepared to enforce its territorial claim based on might makes right.
So the Philippines, long preoccupied with internal security problems, is belatedly moving to develop credible external defense. This should be done with more speed. Instead of waiting for help from others, the country should invest in its own radar system, for use at least in the West Philippine Sea.
This will allow the Philippines not only to keep out intruders and poachers from other counties but also to improve the campaign against smuggling and destructive fishing methods that Filipino fishermen also employ. Much of the country’s coral reefs were destroyed by trawlers, dynamite blasting and other destructive fishing methods used by local fishermen. Coastal communities must also be enlisted to cooperate in any program to monitor the country’s territorial waters. It’s good to get help from friends, but it’s better for the country to invest in its own territorial defense. -