MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and the United States have agreed to expand cooperation in maritime security, disaster response, law enforcement, cybersecurity and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as promoting inclusive economic growth.
During the two-day Third Philippines-US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila that opened Tuesday, the two sides also discussed increased US assistance to civilian law enforcement agencies in the Philippines to build their capability in counter-terrorism to support the armed forces’ shift to territorial defense.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio said yesterday that among the issues discussed were cooperative efforts through training and exercises of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other activities.
“This dialogue also comes at a time when the Philippines is facing great challenges in the West Philippine Sea,” she said.
“We are exerting every effort to resolve these issues through diplomacy and the rule of law. But it is important that we give our armed forces every available tool to defend and preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines and the US also reaffirmed their commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), discussed actions to further invigorate and expand partnership in the spirit of the November 2011 Manila Declaration, the DFA added.
The two sides also discussed increased US assistance to civilian law enforcement agencies in the Philippines to build their capability in counter-terrorism.
The DFA said the two countries called North Korea’s
rocket launch Wednesday using ballistic missile technology a highly provocative act in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
“Given this current threat to regional security, both sides will strengthen and increase their close alliance coordination,” the DFA said.
Co-chairing the dialogue in Manila were Basilio and National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino for the Philippines, and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark Lippert for the US.
Speaking to reporters, Batino said modifying the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is not necessary for the increase in the number of US military ships, aircraft and troops rotating through the Philippines since everything is being viewed as an implementation of the MDT and the VFA.
“We can’t go into specifics but of course as mentioned both parties agreed that everything that will be implemented should be in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, the US Constitution and pertinent laws,” he said.
Batino said it is necessary to further thresh out all these concepts for increased rotational presence, although it has already been agreed on in the Second Bilateral Strategic Dialogue and the Philippines-US 2+2 meeting in Washington last April.
“It’s going to be a very significant development in our relationship and so there’s a need for further discussion,” he said.
Batino said no specific discussion yet was made on the number for the increase in troops and areas, but that it will be primarily an increase in defense cooperation activities like training and exercises for maritime security, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
“Nothing definite yet because this is a policy consultation meeting and all of these specifics will have to be threshed out in consultations,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for American Affairs Carlos Soreta said the Philippines and the US discussed increasing the rotational presence of US forces and a five-year joint US-Philippine military exercise.
The increase in number means more exercises involving more Filipino and American troops and more areas, he added.
Soreta said in terms of number, the exercises will have higher quality, impact and value as well as continuity.
These are all part of increased rotational presence, and “not just large number of Americans coming in,” he added.
US to protect navigation
Adm. Samuel Locklear, US Pacific Command (USPACOM) chief, reiterated yesterday the US commitment to protect freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking to reporters at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday, Locklear said the US has been pursuing freedom of navigation worldwide amid territorial claims of some countries.
“We would ensure that there is access, (there is) freedom of navigation,” he said.
“Around the globe there are nations who, according to what we believe are the international norms and what’s laid out in the UN law of the sea convention, have excessive maritime claims.
“The first way you do that is to do it legally and to make sure that the legal community understands that those claims are excessive. Then we continue to make sure that the US military operates in a way that ensures our freedom of navigation where we choose to go.”
Locklear attended the meeting of the Mutual Defense Board that ended yesterday. The board is comprised of Filipino and American military officials.
In the same press conference, Armed Forces chief Jesse Dellosa said the territorial row in the West Philippine Sea was not the focus of the Mutual Defense Board meeting
“We focused more our discussion with regard to the activities that will be conducted next year,” he said. – With Alexis Romero