Biden: US to defend PH

Says ‘can’t think of better partner’ than PBBM amid challenges

‘PRODUCTIVE MEETINGS.’ President Ferdinand President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. shakes hands with US President Joe Biden during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House Monday afternoon (Tuesday, Manila time).

Washington D.C.—US President Joe Biden underlined America’s “ironclad” commitment to defending the Philippines as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. referred to “difficult times” as the country finds itself in a region with “arguably the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now.”

“It is only natural for the Philippines to look to its sole treaty partner in the world to strengthen, to redefine, the relationship that we have and the roles that we play in the face of those rising tensions that we see now around the South China Sea and Asia Pacific,” Mr. Marcos said during his bilateral meeting with Biden at the White House Monday (Tuesday, Manila time).

Biden, for his part, said Washington remains “ironclad” in its commitment to the defense of the Philippines, including the South China Sea. “And we’re gonna continue [supporting] the Philippines’ military modernization,” he said.

“You know, when we met in New York last year, you told me that the strong alliance has to continue… I’m using your phrase, ‘to evolve as we face the challenges of this new century.’ And we are facing new challenges. And I can’t think of any better partner to have than you.”

“Our countries not only share strong partnership. We share a deep friendship, one that has been enriched by millions of Filipino-Americans and the communities all across the United States,” Biden added.

Mr. Marcos is on a five-day trip that follows last week’s state visit to Washington by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and a White House meeting in January between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

A senior US official said Mr. Marcos’ visit – which began with a military honor guard outside the White House – was the first “at this level and intensity” between the two countries for decades.

“It is clear that we’re in a deeply consequential period in terms of our Indo-Pacific engagements,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a fact sheet released by the White House, the US government said it will provide additional assets to the Philippine military in support of the latter’s modernization efforts.

Washington said it intends to transfer to the Armed Forces of the Philippines two Island-class patrol vessels, two Protector-class patrol vessels, and three C-130H aircraft, pending applicable Congressional notification requirements.

Further, two Cyclone-class coastal patrol vessels were already transferred to the Philippines in late April, and are now en route to Manila.

Alarm bells are ringing for Washington and its Asian allies as China moves ever more confidently to assert claims to sovereignty over almost the whole South China Sea – ignoring an international ruling that this has no legal basis.

The tension, combined with constant saber rattling over Taiwan – the democratically run island that Beijing claims but Washington vows to help defend — has prompted the Biden administration to rapidly bolster its military capabilities.

The Philippines, which lies close to key sea lanes and Taiwan, is of particular interest.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Marcos noted with concern the escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific and cited US assistance in maintaining peace and contribution to the stability and development of the region.

“We have many things that are new that need to be assessed and again our role as partners in the world,” he said, emphasizing the need for peace, not only in the region but also in the rest of the world.

This is the second in-person meeting between the two leaders. Their first meeting was on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022.

Mr. Marcos signaled as he left for Washington that he is wary of being caught between the superpowers, telling reporters: “We will not allow the Philippines to be used as a staging post for any kind of military action.”

However, this month, the Philippines identified four military bases – in addition to five existing sites – where US forces will be given access, including one located near the tense Spratly Islands and two others near Taiwan.

The two allies also carried out their largest-ever military maneuvers in recent weeks.

That has alarmed China, which accuses Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila—even though its own actions have driven the Philippines closer to its treaty ally.

On April 23, a Chinese vessel sailed into the path of a much smaller Philippine Coast Guard vessel carrying journalists in the Spratly Islands, causing a near-collision.

In an acknowledgment of Philippine sensitivities about the US troop presence, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby emphasized that the sites slated to be used by the United States remain part of the Filipino military and “every single step of the way will be done in complete coordination.”

“It’s about our ability to be better allies to one another and meet our commitments to each other,” he said.

In a joint statement, Mr. Marcos and Biden hailed the “remarkable ties of friendship, community, and shared sacrifice that serve as the foundation of the US-Philippines alliance.”

Both leaders said the identification of new sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) “will strengthen Philippine security and support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization goals, while driving US investment to local communities across the Philippines and improving our shared ability to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Both leaders underscored their “unwavering commitment” to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, as well as the importance of respecting the sovereign rights of states within their exclusive economic zones consistent with international law.

“The leaders support the right and ability of Filipino fisherfolk to pursue their traditional livelihoods. The leaders note the ruling of the 2016 arbitral tribunal, constituted pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the joint statement added.

The two leaders also affirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which they described as an “indispensable element of global security and prosperity.”

Both Biden and Marcos conveyed their support for Ukraine in its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, “noting that the conflict (with Russia) has adversely affected food and energy security in the Indo-Pacific.”

The United States Embassy in the Philippines reiterated on Tuesday its support for the 2016 arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea.

Speaking at the Stratbase ADR Institute discussion on Modernizing Philippine Defense Capabilities and Elevating Security Partnerships, US Embassy Political Counselor Brett Blackshaw said the US views the Ayungin Shoal as being under Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction.

He said that China has no lawful territorial or maritime claim.

Blackshaw added that the United States values the Philippines as an equal sovereign partner and reaffirmed US support.

He also hailed President Marcos, noting that relations between the US and the Philippines have been invigorated under the present administration.

Blackshaw announced that the Philippines and the United States will be issuing the “first defense bilateral guidelines” between the two countries.

“One thing that would come out of this visit and is on track to be made public this Wednesday when President Marcos visits the Pentagon is the first ever Bilateral Defense Guidelines between the US and the Philippines,” Blackshaw said.

In other developments:

  • Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte expressed optimism that the official visit of President Marcos to the United States will result in the approval of the agreement for joint maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). He said the need for joint patrols has become more urgent given China’s “aggressive tactics” in the West Philippine Sea.
  • Senator Francis Tolentino said the form of assistance promised by the US to the Philippine government is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. He said this in response to the statement by Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, that the US is prepared to assist the Philippines if China interferes with Manila’s efforts to resupply its grounded naval vessel in the Ayungin Shoal. AFP, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

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