The Philippines and the United States on Friday agreed to “redouble” bilateral coordination following the recent collisions incident involving Philippine and Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint statement, Philippine Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and his United States counterpart Lloyd J. Austin III said they discussed in a phone call China’s “dangerous and unlawful maneuvers” that led to the October 22 collisions.

“The Secretaries reaffirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both countries’ public vessels, aircraft, and armed forces—to include the Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific to include the South China Sea,” the readout of their discussion said

“Both Secretaries committed to redouble efforts to strengthen bilateral coordination, interoperability, and support for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” they added.

Teodoro and Austin also committed to increase the pace and scope of US-Philippines engagements as they lauded their recent military cooperation including the joint sail off Palawan in September.

The two Defense chiefs are looking forward to meeting in person in Jakarta on the margins of the upcoming ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, the readout said.

Teodoro and Austin’s phone conversation comes a day after American President Joe Biden declared that the US defense commitment to the Philippines is “ironclad.”

“Any attack on Filipino aircraft, vessels or armed forces will invoke our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines… The United States defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad,” Biden said on Thursday.

China’s response

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning, meanwhile, responded by saying that the US does not have the right to get involved in problems between China and the Philippines.

“The US is not party to the South China Sea issue, it has no right to get involved in a problem between China and the Philippines,” the Chinese official said in a press briefing when asked about the US saying it will defend the Philippines.

A China Coast Guard vessel on Sunday collided with an Armed Forces of the Philippines-contracted boat going to the Ayungin Shoal to resupply the personnel staying on the BRP Sierra Madre.

During the same mission, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel MRRV 4409’s port side was also “bumped” by Chinese maritime militia vessel 00003 (CMMV 00003).

Ayungin Shoal is located 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf as provided under a United Nations convention.

The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian over the incident.

In response, Chinese Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong said he conveyed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition of the Chinese side to the Philippine side over its vessels’ intrusion over its so-called waters.”

Zhou maintained that Ayungin Shoal, which he referred to as  Ren’ai Jiao, “is part of China’s Nansha Qundao and China’s territory.”

The PCG is set to write to China and urge Beijing to conduct its own probe on the collision.

“Kasi aksidente ito, iyong fishing vessel ay under sa flag state nila, dapat ma-imbestigahan din nila. Kasi it is incumbent upon them also to conduct their own investigation, katulad po noong ginagawa natin,” said PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilo.

(Because it was an accident that involved a vessel under their flag state. They should conduct their own investigation like what we are doing.)

The PCG, meanwhile, is expected to release complete and submit its report on the incident to the PCG Headquarters today. —Joviland Rita/ VAL, GMA Integrated News