THE Philippines has deployed another warship to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to build up its presence in the volatile waters in the face of increasingly aggressive incursions by Chinese vessels. The Davao del Sur, a Tarlac-class landing platform, will join the Antonio Luna, a guided missile frigate, in patrolling the waterway.

The Western Command (Wescom) said three warships stationed in Palawan have orders to stop foreign ships from conducting illegal activities in the WPS such as collecting corals and other marine resources.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. underscored the need to project a strong naval presence in the WPS.

Brawner said there were no new Chinese reclamation activities in the area, but dozens of Chinese militia vessels have been lingering in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

However, Filipino fishermen are not the only ones that face harassment from China. A Chinese Coast Guard ship recently fired a water cannon at a Philippine supply boat seeking to resupply WPS frontliners stationed aboard the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal. Despite the fact that the shoal is fully within the Philippines' EEZ, China claims it as its own, defying a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) arbitral tribunal judgment that rejected its bogus nine-dash-nine claim in the area.

China has also asked that the Philippines to remove the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal. China claimed that the Philippines made a promise to pull the ship away. The Philippines, it asserted, made that pledge "several times" but "has yet to act" on it. The Marcos administration denied the existence of such an agreement, as did Senators Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito, sons of former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, whose administration intentionally grounded the ship at the Ayungin Shoal in 1999 to bolster the country's sovereignty and territorial claims. Many analysts believe that China is preparing the groundwork to forcibly remove the grounded ship, which is clearly within Philippine jurisdiction.

Undoubtedly, the Duterte administration's subservient foreign policy, which largely ignored the Philippines' historical grievances and territorial claims connected to the WPS, contributed to China's assertive assertion in the region. President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy radically pivoted towards China and away from the country’s traditional allies in order to strengthen economic ties with Beijing and pursue larger Chinese investments and infrastructure projects in the Philippines. The tide seemed to have slowly turned when President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s administration took a different approach to foreign relations. While Marcos stated that his foreign policy will keep the Philippines "a friend to all and an enemy to none," he publicly supported the country's arbitral ruling victory and went on to craft a foreign policy framework that seeks multilateral economic and security agreements with more allied countries such as the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, and Australia.

Missile system

The military plans to upgrade its installations on the islands of Pag-asa, Parola, Panata, Likas, Kota, Patag, Law, Ayungin Shoal and Rizal Reef by setting up digital networks and other communication systems.

The Philippine Army (PA) is planning to acquire the Indian-made BrahMos cruise missile system which it would use to defend the country's coastlines together with the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC).

"The Marines will be getting the first deliveries of the BrahMos, they will be getting three batteries," Brawner said during a recent media interview.

While he did not specify the number of batteries the Army would be getting, Brawner said it would be higher than those that would be acquired by the PMC.

A missile battery typically consists of three mobile autonomous launchers with two or three missile tubes each, along with the tracking systems.

Once the PA's acquisition proposal for the BrahMos cruise missile system is approved and funded, the AFP chief said this will be used for coastal defense missions.

Defense Secretary Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro Jr. earlier said the delivery of these weapon platforms for the PMC will proceed at the end of this year.

The BrahMos cruise missile can be launched from a ship, aircraft, submarine or land, and has a top speed of around Mach 2.8 (around 3,400 km. per hour), and is capable of carrying warheads weighing 200 to 300 kilograms.

This weapon platform is expected to address the country's military's weaknesses and vulnerability in sea control, anti-access/area-denial, and coastal and island defense operations. WITH PNA