Philippines, Japan upgrades defense ties in midst of China’s expansionist ambition

Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos recently accepted the offer of assistance from the Japanese government to ramp up security measures to defend its sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea against China. China refers to the West Philippine Sea as the South China Sea.

Marcos met with Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko, and other officials on November 3, to receive an Official Security Assistance (OSA) grant aid amounting to 600 million yen (US$4 million), for the provision of defense equipment such as small patrol boats, radars and drones. 

The OSA was established in 2023 by the Japanese government as a new cooperation framework for the benefit of armed forces and other related organizations of recipient countries, as Japan seeks to deepen security cooperation with neighboring countries to enhance security and deterrence capabilities and infrastructure.  

The Philippines is the first recipient of the OSA. Additionally, Japan is also in negotiations with the Philippines on a reciprocal access agreement, a pact that provides the legal framework for greater bilateral security cooperation. These moves came amid growing concerns by both over China’s territorial ambitions.

Both Japan and the Philippines are committed to upholding the rule of law and freedom of the seas, as the West Philippine Sea and Luzon Strait are important maritime trade routes. The OSA grant will help maintain Philippine’s maritime domain awareness capabilities and effectively monitor the security of the sea lanes. 

Fisherfolk protest against China for preventing them from fishing in their own waters.

Fisherfolk asserts rights against China

On November 6, fisherfolk in San Salvador, a barangay in the municipality of Masinloc, province of Zambales, built and launched a buoy with with the slogan “Atin ang Pinas” (The Philippines is ours). The slogan is directed against China and its illegal incursions and claim over Scarborough Shoal, known to Filipinos as Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal. 

San Pascual local officials led by municipal councilor Richard Pascual said China’s continuing acts of aggression against Filipino fishers in the Bajo de Masinloc is severely affecting the livelihood of thousands. 

“We rely on the bounty of the sea for food, for livelihood, and for our simple joys as simple folk.  The extreme hunger and poverty that are now prevalent among Masinloc fishermen and their families are the clear results of China’s continued suppression of their fishing in the Scarborough,” he said. 

China has barred Filipino fishermen from fishing in the Bajo de Masinloc, the disputed reef that is 125 nautical miles off Zambales.  It was where a standoff between China and the Philippines took place in 2014, and which resulted in China seizing the reef. 

Since the Spanish colonial period in the 1500s, the Bajo de Masinloc has been a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen. The Philippine Coast Guard in September dismantled floating barriers that China put up in the area to prevent Philippine fishing boats from entering.

All photos credit: Asosasyon ng mga Mangingisda sa Masinloc

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