US Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday said an armed attack on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea would trigger a mutual defense treaty between the two countries.
“We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” she told President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in a meeting at the presidential palace in Manila, based on a transcript it sent.
“An armed attack on the Philippines, armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense commitments. That is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” she added.
“Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes,” according to the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The relationship between our two countries is something that we both — both our countries have really come to depend upon,” Mr. Marcos told Ms. Harris.
He said her visit to the Philippines is a “very strong symbol” that the relationship of the Philippines with its former colonizer “remains strong.”
Mr. Marcos also said Philippine relations with the United States had gone through different phases and has been strengthened in every way.
The Philippines signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, the country’s key western ally, under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.
His successor Rodrigo R. Duterte had threatened to scrap a visiting forces agreement with the US after the US Embassy canceled the visa of his ally Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief who led his deadly war on drugs.
Ms. Harris, the highest-ranking US official to visit the country since Mr. Marcos took office in June, is set to visit the island province of Palawan near the South China Sea on Nov. 22. Her husband Douglas Emhoff earlier came to the Philippines to attend Mr. Marcos’ inauguration.
“In the economic sense, the political sense, defense, security, we cannot think of an area where we have not cooperated, collaborated and have had good results for both our countries,” Mr. Marcos said.
The two leaders were expected to talk about possible collaborations to address the climate crisis and boost the country’s renewable energy and clean power sector.
Meanwhile, the US seeks to pursue its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines, which was signed in 2014 and builds on the Mutual Defense Treaty and 1999 visiting forces agreement, according to a fact sheet e-mailed by the US Embassy in Manila. It was also posted on the White House website.
The military deal provides a legal basis for Philippine and American servicemen to undertake security cooperation exercises, pursue joint and combined military training activities and respond to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts from agreed locations in the Philippines, on a rotational basis.
US and Philippine forces have also used EDCA sites during Kamandag and Balikatan military exercises.
The US has allotted more than $82 million toward EDCA implementation at five existing locations in the Philippines, according to the statement.
“This investment and forthcoming additional allotment will complete 21 projects, enabling the United States and the Philippines to build lasting security infrastructure to promote long-term modernization, build a credible mutual defense posture, maintain humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities and enhance the strength of the alliance,” it said.
New EDCA locations have also been identified to enable the US and Philippines to continue to work together to meet the objectives of the military pact.
“The United States has awarded the vast majority of contracts supporting these projects to Philippine companies, generating economic growth in local Philippine communities and building lasting friendships between the United States and Philippines,” according to the fact sheet.
Also on Monday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed the US government’s initiatives to strengthen the alliance between the two countries.
“The Philippines and United States agree on the importance of strengthening the economic security of the Philippines so that we might have the capacity to meet both our individual and collective challenges,” it said in a separate statement.
“We hope to continue the extensive bilateral engagements between our two countries with a view to achieving tangible, relevant and substantial outcomes in support of the economic development objectives of the Philippines,” it added.
The agency said it is important to advance cooperation with Washington at the bilateral, regional and global levels. “The visit of Vice-President Harris shall further strengthen our partnership, alliance and friendship.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan