PH-US joint sea patrols eyed

Blinken vows US help in securing PH maritime domain in WPS

The Philippines is open to the possibility of conducting joint patrols with the United States in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said during a virtual joint press conference with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Saturday.

For his part, Blinken, who also paid a courtesy call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said the US remains committed to helping the Philippines secure its maritime domain amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.

“I reiterated our ironclad commitment to the US-PH Mutual Defense Treaty and reaffirmed that an armed attack on Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US’ mutual defense commitments under that treaty,” Blinken said.

Manalo said the joint patrols “can take place under the ambit of the MDT.”

PH-US… “I think this is an issue which we can continue to explore bilaterally,” Manalo said.

The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

The proposal for joint patrols was earlier affirmed in 2016 under the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III.

In a statement last year, Aquino’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, Albert del Rosario, said he met with Blinken, then Deputy Secretary of State, twice in Washington on the joint patrols agreement, which he said was shelved by the Duterte administration, “fearing that China would be displeased.”

Blinken said Washington will help “preserve and protect the Philippines’ precious maritime resources … (which) are under threat from illegal fishing and environmental destruction by outside actors.”

Blinked also expressed the commitment of the United States to de-escalate tensions over the Taiwan Strait to keep the region, including the Philippines, safe.

“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is vital not only for Taiwan but for the Philippines and many other countries. What happens to the Taiwan Strait affects the entire region and in many ways affects the entire world like the South China Sea is a critical waterway,” he said.

China earlier announced it is cutting off contacts with Washington on key issues, including defense and climate change cooperation, in retaliation to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The mainland also held its largest military drill near the self-governing island on Thursday, firing live missiles and deploying fighter jets.

In his meeting with Marcos, Blinken underscored the “strong” alliance between the two treaty allies.

“I believe it can grow even stronger,” Blinken told Marcos at the presidential palace.

Marcos hailed the “special relationship” between the two countries.

Marcos told Blinken he believes the tensions in the Taiwan Strait did not heighten in intensity – rather, it showed how deep the conflict already is.

“To be perfectly candid, 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 said. “This just demonstrates how volatile the international diplomatic scene is not only in the region.”

“This just points to the fact of the importance of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines. I hope that we will continue to evolve that relationship in the face of all the changes we have been seeing.”

The President also underscored how the MDT itself “is in constant evolution.”

“As I spoke with your Ambassador some time when she came, we can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other. We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the US and the Philippines, and the history that we share,” Marcos added.

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