The ongoing tension in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) will not merit the withdrawal of support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to President Rodrigo Duterte, a maritime expert said on Monday.
Philippine Association for Chinese Studies president Rommel Banlaoi said that it is highly unlikely for the military to rally against the current administration based on the country’s history and the continuous popularity of the President.
He further explained that the military only withdrew support from leaders who were perceived to be highly corrupt, citing the downfall of the Marcos and Estrada administrations.
“It is very difficult to withdraw support from the current government that is still considered to be very popular. I think the AFP are quite happy with what they are getting from the government,” he said during the Tapatan sa the Aristocrat weekly press conference.
“Based on our experiences, the military withdrew support against the sitting government when it is perceived to be highly corrupt. Marcos is highly corrupt and Estrada is corrupt. But when it comes to the WPS, the issue was inaction,” he added.
The expert likewise rejected claims of “inaction” on the part of the Duterte administration, saying that the Chief Executive has taken diplomatic and military actions to address the issue such sending off of patrol ships in the area and acquisition of additional military assets to buffer the Philippines’ national security system.
Banlaoi’s statement came following reports that hundreds of retired and active military officers are planning to withdraw support from the Chief Executive should he stay silent on China’s alleged encroachment in the contested territory.
The AFP and the Department of National Defense are quick to deny the claims dismissing it as “fake news”.
US deployment of fleet can be ‘coincidental’
During the same forum, maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said the deployment of additional American troops in the disputed waters may not be connected to the maritime dispute in WPS.
It can be purely coincidental, Batongbacal said, as he noted that a visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States is still set to be abrogated.
“I wouldn’t venture right now, whether it is directly a call from the Philippines especially considering that the VFA is still going to be abrogated,” he said.
“It will be a vague position (if it is a call from the Philippines). We can’t tell, it could be coincidental but I am sure their presence there — if it is a coincidence– happened to be a very useful coincidence,’ he added.
According to a report of Esquire Magazine on 17 April, US President Joe Biden has sent its aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, assault ship USS Makin Island along with its large escort of submarines, destroyers, and cruisers in the Philippine territory.