Obama: US committed to defend Philippines

Louis Bacani, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2014 - 10:46am

MANILA, Philippines â€” Saying nations' territories must be respected, President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday that the United States will remain committed to defend its treaty ally, the Philippines.

Speaking to about 500 American and Filipino troops in Fort Bonifacio, Obama said the two nations are reaffirming their enduring alliance that has been bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty for more than 60 years.

"This treaty means our two nations pledge and I'm quoting 'Our common determination to defend themselves against external armed attacks so that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that either of them stands alone,' Obama said in his remarks delivered at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig.

"In other words, our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. And the United States will keep that commitment 'cause allies do not stand alone," the American leader added, drawing applause from the audience.

Obama made no mention of China in his short speech, but he did reiterate that the territorial disputes must be resolved peacefully and not by intimidation or force.

"We believe that nations and peoples have the right to live in security and peace and have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected. We believe that international law must be upheld, that freedom of navigation must be preserved, and commerce must not be impeded," Obama said.

His remarks came after failing to categorically assure in a press conference on Monday that the US will defend the Philippines if and when the tensions in the disputed South China Sea escalate into an armed conflict.

When asked Monday whether the US will defend the Philippines in case its dispute with China leads to an armed conflict, Obama did not give a direct answer, stating instead that Washington does not seek to contain Beijing.

He added that the US does not take sides on disputes between nations but believes that these should not be managed through coercion and intimidation.

Obama echoed similar lines in his remarks as he noted the importance of upholding territorial integrity and freedom of navigation.

Obama has said that the US is not aiming to counter nor contain China, which is claiming virtually the entire South China Sea.

Taking advantage of the Philippines’ weak military capability, Beijing has occupied areas that are well within Manila’s exclusive economic zone including the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef off Palawan and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales.

China has also set up a blockade in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal to prevent supplies from reaching a grounded ship that serves as a Philippine military installation.

The Philippines has filed a complaint against China before an international arbitral tribunal, a move that has drawn support from the US.

The US and the Philippines on Monday signed the 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowing increased rotational presence of American soldiers in the country.

Areas of cooperation

Former President Fidel Ramos, who was present when Obama delivered his remarks, said the Philippines should seek collaborations with China on issues like disaster mitigation and poverty.

He said nations should work together to address common problems instead of engaging in bickering.

“Who is the enemy here? Is it us against them or them against us? No, the enemy here is climate change, super typhoons, infectious diseases, poverty, hunger, lack of electricity, lack of jobs. That should be our focus,” Ramos said.

“Let us gather all our assets we use for building up lethal weapons and defenses and use them to fight poverty, disease hunger, and ignorance. (We should) take care of the young people,” he added.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a former soldier, said Obama’s remarks should not be construed as referring to the West Philippine Sea row.

“We have to take that away in the context of the territorial dispute because they (US) are also very clear in that regard that they are not going to intervene in territorial disputes so we have to deal with the dispute ourselves,” Trillanes said.

“They (US) are not at war with China. They are dealing with China and strengthening their alliance with us so we can do the same. We can have a strong ally with the United States and deal with China in a more friendly way,” he added. 

Related: Obama: 'Our goal is not to counter China'

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