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Top officials affirm Philippine-US alliance

Ralph Edwin Villanueva - The Philippine Star
Top officials affirm Philippine-US alliance
During their meeting, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stressed the need for the Philippines to enhance its defense capacity so it could keep its treaty commitments.
Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed ways to further strengthen the defense capabilities of the Philippines during their first in-person meeting held in Washington on Friday (Manila time).

During their meeting, Locsin stressed the need for the Philippines to enhance its defense capacity so it could keep its treaty commitments.

He also underscored the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1951 accord that formalized the alliance between the US and the Philippines.

“We want to ramp up our bilateral engagement to ensure that our alliance remains strong and resilient,” Locsin said in a statement released by the Philippine embassy in the US.

No specific details about the discussion on strengthening Philippine defense capabilities were released.

But according to the embassy statement, Locsin and Blinken agreed to hold the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) in November and the 2 Plus 2 Ministerial Dialogue in early 2022.

The BSD is a key mechanism for consultation and exchange of views on a broad range of issues, including political, security and economic cooperation between the Philippines and the United States.

The 2 Plus 2 Ministerial Dialogue, meanwhile, involves a joint meeting between the foreign and defense secretaries of the two countries.

Locsin also conveyed to Blinken the Philippine government’s deep appreciation for the more than six million vaccines donated by the US through the COVAX Facility.

At the meeting, Blinken also underscored the importance of freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the South China Sea.

He also reiterated their call for China to abide by the 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated its claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

The US official also welcomed President Duterte’s decision to recall his earlier order to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries.

“We are very gratified to have the recent renewal of the Visiting Forces Agreement. We are standing shoulder to shoulder in combating COVID-19 and looking at ways to build back better from the pandemic,” he said prior to his meeting with Locsin.

“And of course, the Philippines is a strong supporter of the rules-based international order, including the freedom of navigation and we’ll certainly be talking about that and many more things,” he added.

In addition to the pandemic and the situation in the South China Sea, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the two officials also discussed the issue of human rights.

Aside from Blinken, Locsin – along with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana – also met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to mark the 70th anniversary of the MDT.

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said the three officials discussed the US support for the Philippines’ ongoing response to COVID-19, ongoing cooperation on counterterrorism and the importance of respect for human rights.

Bilateral maritime framework

Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense (DND) announced that the Philippines and the US have agreed to work on a bilateral maritime framework that advances cooperation in the maritime domain and resume the projects in approved Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) locations in the Philippines.

The agreement came during a meeting between Lorenzana and his counterpart, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, also on Friday in Washington.

In a statement, the DND said the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to further enhance defense relations.

The two sides, it added, have “a better appreciation” of each country’s defense and security priorities and have come to an understanding of shared goals for the alliance and the region.

Austin “expressed appreciation” for the Philippines’ decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement, saying it “signals a commitment by both sides to strengthen the longstanding alliance.”

Aside from boosting security ties and defense cooperation between the two countries, the defense secretaries discussed developments in the South China Sea, with Austin reaffirming the US’s commitments to the Philippines under the MDT.

“Both sides reaffirmed that the engagement is not just a fulfillment of obligations under the MDT, but a willing commitment to keep the alliance ironclad,” it added. 

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