Screengrab from the Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sunday led a Coast Guard ship ready to patrol the Philippines-claimed territories in the South China Sea, prompting foreign policy experts to criticize his government for not having a presence on the waterway.

Mr Duterte, 77, saluted the ship’s confession because it had officially allowed its commanding officer to resume official duties, the Philippine Coast Guard said in a Facebook post.

The agency said the ship would revolve around the country’s maritime jurisdiction, with the South China Sea to the west and the Philippine Rise to the east.

Named after the Filipino revolutionary Melchora Aquino, the ship is one of the two largest white vessels ever acquired by the Department of Transportation for the Coast Guard.

It is built in conjunction with the Japan Coast Guard’s Kunigami-class ship, which has a speed of 24 nautical miles per hour and, according to the Coast Guard, is no less than 4,000 nautical miles.

Earlier in the day, Mr Duterte and other Philippine officials attended a ceremony marking the country’s 124th anniversary.Th Independence Day.

Defense Secretary Delphin N. Lorenzana, who attended the event, fainted and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he is stable, the Department of Defense said in a separate statement.

The defense chief, 73, fainted from exhaustion due to his busy schedule outside the country, following recent conversations with his foreign counterparts in Singapore, the agency said. Extreme temperatures in the Philippine capital have also increased his fatigue, it said.

Mr Lorenzana said last year that China had tried to block major defense deals between the Philippines and the United States.

Filipino experts say the United States is unlikely to change its overall foreign policy toward China because the Philippine defense establishment is a staunch supporter of the United States.

When he took office in 2016 in exchange for investment pledges, Mr. Duterte led foreign policy in China, much of which has not been fulfilled.

The Philippines is a longtime ally of the United States and both are committed to a bilateral defense agreement, Mr Lorenzana said when China accused Washington of sowing chaos in Southeast Asia.

Filipino activists and patriots are urging the Philippine government to pursue an independent foreign policy and rescind the country’s mutual defense agreement with the United States, which it says violates the country’s sovereignty and human rights.

“Our country is not really independent.” Progressive group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement. “We are not free from foreign intervention, including by the United States and China, both of which are in a race to control the South China Sea.”

In 2020, Mr. Duterte threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States when the latter embassy approached Senator Ronald O. Della Rosa’s visa was revoked by his former police chief who led a deadly war on his drugs.

Activists say the military agreement, which includes rules for deploying troops for war games, favors the United States.

“As you gain strength by learning from your past, you must still believe in the wisdom that comes from your current choices, decisions and actions so that you can build a better future for your people,” he said. Duterte said on his Independence Day. Speech

Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, who has called for a coalition of nations against China’s militarization and island-building actions in the South China Sea, called on Filipinos to “confirm what is right and true and assert the truth.” Our history. “

Ms. Robredo, whose six-year term ends this month, will run in the May 9 presidential race with Ferdinand R. Defeated by Marcos, Jr..

Critics say Mr Marcos is likely to have closer trade and investment ties with China. Last week, he called China the “strongest partner” of the Philippines.

Also on Sunday, civic groups and human rights lawyers gathered at the National Monument, built in honor of the victims of Mr Marcos’ late father’s martial law regime.

He cited threats to freedom and the emergence of misinformation, which he described as an emerging threat to academic democracy.

Political analysts say civic groups and the international community will keep a close eye on Mr Marcos, who is seen as a consistent president, after he remained silent on key issues during the campaign. – Kyle Aristopher t. Atienza