Several countries are willing to assist the Philippines in enhancing its defense capabilities through a visIting forces agreement (VFA) or military exercises.

National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said at least 14 nations have expressed intentions to join “Balikatan” (literally shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises in the country.

The “Balikatan” with the United States military demonstrates and refines tactics, techniques, and procedures related to security and conflicts.

There are also humanitarian civic assistance projects to improve infrastructure and enhance medical response, including trainings in advanced emergency rescue and lifesaving techniques.

Dati po iyong Balikatan, ilang libo lang iyan kasama, iyong Amerika. Ngayon libu-libo na at ang observer natin, 14. Ganoon kadami iyong mga bansa na hindi lang salita, gawa na ngayon. Nagpapadala sila ng tropa mula sa bansa nila (The previous Balikatan only had America but now there are thousand others and we have 14 observers. They actually join, not just talk about it. They send troops) and they are asking permission to join,” he said at the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City.

He said even New Zealand wants to strengthen its defenses alongside the Philippines, as expressed by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon in his meeting with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. at Malacañang Palace in Manila on Thursday.

The 39th iteration of the “Balikatan” on April 22 to May 10 will have observers from Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Malaya said the support of various countries is mainly due to the clear stand of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue.

“Wala pong ni isang bansa ang nagpapahayag ng suporta sa posisyon ng Tsina sa West Philippine Sea,” Malaya said.

In contrast, he said the Philippines is always visited by prime ministers, foreign ministers, defense ministers and the like.

“They understand that our position is important. We stand for the rule of law. We stand for a free and open Indo-Pacific and we stand for international law,” Malaya said.

He clarified though that the Philippines is accepting alliances with other nations not to create war.

“We are exhausting all diplomatic options to resolve this issue. We wish a constructive dialogue with the People’s Republic of China. But defending, improving our defenses and improving the capacity of our forces through exercises and joint patrols do not mean that we are going to war,” he said.

“We have no intention of precipitating any form of war with anyone,” he added.

All VFA announcements will have to come from the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said.

“All I can say right now are the countries that have expressed interest to us publicly, like Japan,” he said.

The Philippines’ tough stand against China is one of the reasons why the President was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.

“Hindi po ako nagtataka doon because the respect for the Philippines has increased. And I agree with the assessment of Time Magazine that President Bongbong Marcos has brought the Philippines back to the world stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, professor Don Mclain Gill, geopolitical analyst and lecturer of the International Studies Department of De La Salle University, noted that the country is on the right track as it handles with “clarity, transparency and consistency” the WPS issues.

“The government of the Philippines particularly under President Marcos Jr. has emphasized that we uphold the 2016 Arbitral Ruling and UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), which are enough to let us know our legitimacy in terms of the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

He urged Filipinos to continue to support the government.

“What we should now be focused on are its long-term implications and this is where we should show our unity in order to ensure that the efforts of civil society also align with the efforts that our government is putting in and that is basically the whole-of-the nation approach that we are trying to pursue,” he said.(Ferdinand G. Patinio/PNA)