Philippines, US Reaffirm Commitment to 70-year-old Military Alliance

Basilio Sepe and Marielle Lucenio
Manila
2021-08-23
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Philippines, US Reaffirm Commitment to 70-year-old Military Alliance U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino (left) stands alongside Armed Forces of the Philippines Inspector General Lt. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal during a meeting in Manila, Aug. 23, 2021. [Armed Forces of the Philippines Handout]
Armed Forces of the Philippines Handout

The United States and the Philippines reaffirmed their military alliance Monday, ahead of the 70th anniversary of their Mutual Defense Treaty later this month.

Washington was committed to peace in the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said amid a renewed presence of Chinese ships in Philippine waters in the disputed South China Sea.

“Our alliance represents the mutual trust that is central to our enduring friendship, and that trust is a necessity in order to confront the challenges in this theater,” Aquilino said in a statement during a visit to Manila, referring to the Indo-Pacific region.

“Both of our nations have made it clear that we are committed to the alliance, and that we remain prepared to fight alongside and defend each other using all of our capabilities to preserve the region’s peace and stability.”

The Mutual Defense Treaty binds the U.S. and the Philippines into helping the other in times of external aggression.

Lt. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, inspector general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the visit was an opportunity to “advance our mutual security interests” as well as show Manila’s commitment to the treaty.

Aquilino’s trip to the country was his first as the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief.  He previously visited Manila when he commanded the Pacific Fleet in 2018.

Manila’s military chief Lt. Gen. Edgardo de Leon pulled out from a scheduled meeting with Aquilino after testing positive for COVID-19.  The two military chiefs’ meeting would have been their first after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last month restored another defense pact with the U.S.

Aquilino also met with Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, according to a U.S. military statement.

In a visit to Manila last month, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin met with Duterte and both men announced that the Visiting Forces Agreement was fully back on track – meaning military drills and exercises in Philippine territory involving U.S. troops would proceed unhampered.

That announcement reversed Duterte’s February 2020 pronouncement to scrap the 22-year-old pact after Washington had denied a U.S. visa to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, his former national police chief and main enforcer of his administration’s bloody war on drugs.

210823_PH_US_defense_inside.jpg
Philippine soldiers and marines are pictured next to armored personnel carriers and tanks during live fire exercises, as part of the annual U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, Tarlac province, north of Manila on April 10, 2019. [AFP]

President Duterte, whose six-year term ends in less than a year, has spent much of his time in office building up Manila’s relationship with Beijing while backing off on bilateral ties with Washington.

But in July, the Philippines hailed Washington’s commitment to help defend Manila’s South China Sea claims.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had declared that America would invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty if Philippine ships or aircraft came under attack in the South China Sea – an indirect warning aimed at Beijing, which has vast territorial claims in the maritime region.

Blinken’s statement came on the fifth anniversary of a verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in favor of the Philippines and against China over Beijing’s expansive claims in the contested waterway.

The Philippine Coast Guard that month said it had challenged a Chinese warship that entered the country’s territorial waters in the South China Sea but eventually sailed away.

The latest standoff began in March when Philippine government patrols reported spotting hundreds of Chinese ships in Philippine waters in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters that overlap the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Separately, Philippine military chief de Leon issued a brief statement, saying he would continue to do his job while in quarantine.

“I will remain in command of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] but will continue to follow the prescribed isolation protocol to ensure the safety of those I work with and my family,” he said, as he encouraged everyone to support Manila’s coronavirus vaccination campaign.

The health department on Monday reported 18,332 new COVID-19 infections, an all-time daily high for the country, bringing to 1.86 million the total number of cases. With 151 new virus-related deaths, the pandemic death toll neared 32,000.

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