Blinken’s visit brings US-Phl relations to a higher level

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

US INDOPACOM chief Admiral John Aquilino and AFP Inspector General Lt. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal in August 2021 meet to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines. | Photo by AFP via Wikimedia Commons

I joined the meeting yesterday between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US State Secretary Antony Blinken. Unfortunately, Foreign Affairs Secretary Rick Manalo tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, so he could not join the meeting.

The meeting with Secretary Blinken lasted more than an hour, with a wide range of subjects and issues discussed. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most substantial meetings we have had with the United States since BBM became president.

Climate change was one major subject of discussion, as the recent magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Abra and nearby provinces in Northern Luzon has once again underscored the vulnerability of the Philippines to the destructive impact of climate change.

A key topic was the alliance between the Philippines and the United States and sustaining the positive trajectory of relations as both nations navigate emerging regional and global challenges.

I came across this very interesting online commentary titled Aim Higher: The US-Philippine Alliance Can Do More, published at warontherocks.com and written by Gregory Winger and Julio Amador III, that discussed threats and challenges and the opportunities to strengthen the alliance further.

“To address strategic competition with China and emerging threats like cybersecurity, the alliance needs to develop new capacities for common defense based on integrated alliance efforts. This is not just a question of military capabilities, but the political and institutional maturation of the alliance into a mutual security partnership,” the commentary went, noting that “…there is much to do in order to make the US-Philippine alliance fit for a 21st century purpose.”

“… we must ramp up efforts to modernize and enhance the capability of our Armed Forces for the Philippines to become a reliable ally that can significantly contribute to the partnership, with the operative word being “mutual” in relation to the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

It was focused on during the 9th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC, last November that we had with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner, where we signed a “Joint Vision Statement for a 21st Century United States-Philippines Partnership” that outlined areas of cooperation to boost military and economic ties and, more importantly, address current realities and challenges that both nations face.

In their commentary, Winger and Amador maintain that the alliance partners “have increasingly come to recognize China as their primary threat…” and that despite the “friendliness” of former president Duterte, the continuing antagonism displayed by our neighbor within the South China Sea “demonstrated that the Chinese and Philippine positions in the maritime dispute are irreconcilable, with China unwilling to alter its territorial claims to amicably resolve the issue. This realization has been captured within Philippine national security dialogue, which has increasingly stressed the need to develop a credible military deterrent.”

The authors pointed to the “grey zone” tactics of China, such as the use of maritime militias and cyber operations that fall below the threshold of an “armed attack” – enabling China to “reshape security conditions in the region in ways that actively skirt the Mutual Defense Treaty and undermine the ability of the alliance to respond.”

The “inability” of the alliance to address these emerging threats was a source of frustration for former Defense Secretary Del Lorenza, who then called for “revisions and additions in [the] MDT and other relevant defense agreements between the US and the Philippines to ensure we have maximum possible cooperation and interoperability to deal with so-called ‘gray zone’ threats,” the authors disclosed.

As I have been saying in the past, we must ramp up efforts to modernize and enhance the capability of our Armed Forces for the Philippines to become a reliable ally that can significantly contribute to the partnership, with the operative word being “mutual” in relation to the Mutual Defense Treaty.

And for the skeptics and critics of the alliance – the authors hit it right on the nose when they said: “Accepting Philippine alignment with the United States is not an invitation for subservience. It is instead a manifestation of the Philippines’ own national interests in promoting both a free and open Indo-Pacific as well as the rules-based international order. Moreover, it accurately recognizes that the benefits afforded to Manila by the Mutual Defense Treaty also carry responsibilities that cannot be ignored for the sake of convenience.”

“As ambassador to the United States, part of my mission is to ensure that the relationship between the US and the Philippines remains strong and stable. I will continue to do so to the best of my ability, as I always have, for my country.”

There is this failed diplomat who is back to his old job of being a mediocre columnist, resorting to labeling me as pro-American for highlighting the assertion of President Marcos that he will not allow even a square inch of our territory to be trampled upon by any foreign power. This person does not really understand the dynamics of diplomacy and the attendant work that goes with being a diplomat, one of which is to enhance relations with the host country.

A recent survey showed that nearly 90 percent of Filipinos consider the US the most trusted nation and believe President Marcos should “assert our rights over the West Philippine Sea as stipulated in the July 2016 arbitral ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.” So do we brand all these people as being pro-Americans? Of course not – they’re just being pro-Filipino!

As ambassador to the United States, part of my mission is to ensure that the relationship between the US and the Philippines remains strong and stable. I will continue to do so to the best of my ability, as I always have, for my country.

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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