Philippines welcomes possible WPS joint patrols with US

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Philippines welcomes possible WPS joint patrols with US
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo virtually met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on a short visit to Manila from August 5 to 6, 2022. The two leaders discussed ways to further enhance US-PH relations.
Twitter / Department of Foreign Affairs

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines welcomes the possibility of holding joint patrols with the United States in the West Philippine Sea citing the two countries’ Mutual Defense Treaty.

Responding to a query at a joint press briefing with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo said the joint patrols may be “continued to be explored bilaterally.” 

“In our view, joint patrols between the Philippines and the United States can take place, they are under the ambits of the MDT, and also within the context of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagements Board,” Manalo said at the virtual briefing.

Last year, former top diplomat Albert del Rosario called on both the US and the Philippines to show “political will and commitment” to enforce the treaty in the context of the South China Sea.

Blinken arrived at Villamor Airbase late Friday night, following his participation in the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh in Cambodia over the past week. 

For his quick stop in Manila, Blinken paid a courtesy call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Manalo to underscore Washington’s commitment to its bilateral relationship with the Philippines and also expressed interest in further enhancing economic ties in areas such as renewable energy and agriculture.

READ: US, Philippines agree to continue food security talks

'Pillar’ of bilateral relationship

Manalo discussed during the virtual presser that the Philippines’ defense and security engagements with the US “continue to be a pillar of our bilateral relationship.”

“Our defense relations are really anchored on the Mutual Defense Treaty, succeeding agreements like the Mutual Logistics Ports Agreement, [Visiting Forces Agreement], the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement as well as the other mechanisms which go along with these various agreements,” Manalo said.

He added that the agreements also detail mechanisms of joint activities between the two countries, which include training, military exercises, and technical assistance.

“All of these existing agreements also extend beyond the traditional security issues of defense, and maritime security, but now also include cooperation areas such as terrorism, cybersecurity, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, as well as pandemics,” Manalo added.

For his part, Blinken also reaffirmed the US’ “iron-clad commitment” to the Mutual Defense Treaty, saying that “an armed attack on the Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke [commitments] under that treaty.”

This echoes a statement he earlier made on the anniversary of the 2016 Hague ruling, which invalidated China’s so-called nine-dash claims on the South China Sea and instead provided that the disputed waters is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. 

Beijing has repeatedly refused to recognize the award, and just recently called it “illegal, null, and void.” It has accused Washington of “deliberately [seeking] to widen differences and provoke tensions” using the maritime dispute.

Manila has filed 412 diplomatic protests against China since 2016, with 152 of these filed just this year. 

On Taiwan

Blinken highlighted that Washington aims to always “stand by” its partners especially with the current situation in the Taiwan Strait. His Manila visit came in the heels of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island of Taiwan that sparked an outcry from China.

He said China has fired almost a dozen ballistic missiles to Taiwan since Pelosi's visit. Beijing said a US official visiting Taiwan, which has constantly been under the threat of China, sends the wrong signal to "separatist forces."

READ: US-China relations risk long, deep freeze over Taiwan: experts 

Meanwhile, Manalo said the Philippines and the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “have always been ready to see how we can help in anyway to reduce the tensions.”

“It is an important point from the Philippine perspective that the lines of communication be maintained between the parties concerned, especially as a way of trying to prevent others from escalating and reducing tensions,” Manalo said.

During their courtesy call with the president, Marcos told Blinken that he thinks that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan merely put a spotlight on the intensity of the conflict between the US and China.

“I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated it — how the intensity of that conflict has been. It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside,” Marcos added.

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