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Our two-day meeting with officials of the Pentagon and the Department of State for the 9th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) between the Philippines and the United States went extremely well with our signing of a “Joint Vision Statement for a 21st Century United States-Philippines Partnership” that outlines the areas of cooperation that would definitely boost and strengthen our military and economic ties. I have attended three of these dialogues, but I must say this is probably the most significant one that will clearly define our relationship with the United States.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner headed the US delegation. They were with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Valda Vikmanis-Keller, Assistant Legal Adviser for the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau Robert Harris, and USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Craig Hart.
I headed the Philippine delegation with Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro and Asst. Secretary for American Affairs Kira Azucena, along with Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, Justice Undersecretary Adrian Ferdinand Sugay, Defense Assistant Secretary Teodoro Cirilo Torralba, and experts from the Departments of Agriculture, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, National Defense and Trade and Industry, as well as the Office of the President, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.
Our discussions were pretty much straightforward on a wide range of issues that include mutual security and defense, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, maritime issues, emerging common threats such as cybercrimes, transnational crimes, and terrorist networks, trafficking in persons, the pandemic, clean energy, climate change, and other mutual concerns.
With so many challenges we faced compounded by the pandemic, we at the embassy in Washington, DC had to double up in extensively making the relationship stronger and more stable and, most especially, more meaningful because we are marking 75 years of diplomatic relations and 70 years of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. These are the key pillars in our bilateral defense and security relations. Shortly following President Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 US presidential elections last year, we immediately reached out to Biden’s key advisers to avoid losing time in building our relationship.
The BSD is an annual consultative mechanism to discuss the full range of political, security, and economic cooperation between the Philippines and the United States and, as I said, this is probably the best of the lot with the joint vision statement clearly cut in terms of the direction where the partnership is headed, and the commitments made by our two countries given the changing geopolitical landscape and emerging challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The recent incident in Ayungin Shoal where Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water sprayed Philippine Coast Guard boats on a resupply mission is a clear example of why the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is critical, particularly the Article IV obligations to respond to an armed attack on either the US or the Philippines in the Pacific area.”
Obviously, one of the key challenges that both nations face today involves the situation in the South China Sea. In the joint vision statement, both nations recognized the importance of diplomatic efforts in “building an international coalition that supports the international law-based maritime order” and share the view that “China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea are inconsistent with the international law of the sea” as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the unanimous July 12, 2016, arbitral award that the Philippines asserted once again during the virtual 11th ASEAN Maritime Forum last Tuesday.
The recent incident in Ayungin Shoal where Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and water sprayed Philippine Coast Guard boats on a resupply mission is a clear example of why the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is critical, particularly the Article IV obligations to respond to an armed attack on either the US or the Philippines in the Pacific area. Indeed, we welcome the position of the US as articulated in a July 13, 2020, statement that the Pacific area includes the South China Sea.
Not surprisingly, the latest act of aggression displayed by the Chinese has sparked outrage and condemnation not only from legislators and Cabinet officials that include Secretary Locsin, who told the Chinese to “back off,” and acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles who said, “We will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our territory,” but also local leaders in the municipality of Kalayaan who denounced the bullying as “a gross infringement of our sovereignty and a grave intrusion of our waters.”
Many Fil-Ams are outraged, even going so far as to say that the filing of diplomatic protests is “not enough,” considering the continued aggression displayed by China, claiming almost all of the South China Sea – which is simply preposterous.
“Many Fil-Ams are outraged, even going so far as to say that the filing of diplomatic protests is “not enough,” considering the continued aggression displayed by China, claiming almost all of the South China Sea – which is simply preposterous.”
We proposed that the BSD working groups continue working together regularly to address current realities and challenges. They must sustain frank exchanges and regular interactions between both sides to keep our momentum.
Obviously, we must also continue efforts to enhance the defense capabilities of our Armed Forces, given the current geopolitical tensions. To this end, avenues will be pursued, including funding arrangements, to strengthen the alliance. After all, it is in the best interest of both nations to have a strong and capable Philippine military that can significantly contribute to the partnership in defense and security.
Together with Secretary Locsin and Secretary Lorenzana, we are confident the work we have done in reinforcing the special relationship between the United States and the Philippines will meet common challenges we will face in the next decade and beyond.