Philippine Marines manoeuvre while a US Marine (second right) gives instructions during a live-fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines annual joint naval exercises in San Marcelino, north of Manila yesterday.

By Fernan Marasigan
Manila Times

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday confirmed a plan by the US to deploy warships near the artificial islands “illegally” built by China off the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
“We are aware of the reports on this matter and are seeking validation from the US side,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a text message.
In a move seen to challenge China’s sovereignty claims over the West Philippine Sea, a US defence official quoted by the Financial Times said US naval vessels will sail
“within 12-nautical-mile zones … within the next two weeks.”
No official confirmation has been released by the Pentagon on the reported plan.
Although the US is not a party to the maritime dispute, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation, trade and peace and stability in the South China Sea, where bulk of the world’s trade passes.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin described the planned deployment of US warships as a practice of freedom of navigation.“They (US) have always been doing that in the first place. They said that they will fly, they will sail in the areas that they have been doing before just to prove that there is freedom of navigation,” Gazmin told reporters.
He said the US is just following the rule of law.
“If their ships get challenged then there is no freedom of navigation,” Gazmin added.

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