MANILA (JGL) – President Obama punctuated his four-nation, seven-day tour of Asia Tuesday (April 29) by assuring the Philippines its support against China’s attempt to “coerce and intimidate” her from pursuing her claim before the Arbitral of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in The Hague, Netherlands and wean the Philippines back to bilateral negotiation.
Using Nelson Mandela’s manner of speaking to the heart of his listeners, Obama used snatches of such Filipino words as “mabuhay,” “kumusta kayo,” “lumpia,” “bayanihan,” “kalooban,” “balikatan” and “salamat” to tell the world that the United States is ready and able to standby its oldest ally in Asia when push comes to shove.
While President Obama had robust words to shore up its support for the Philippines, critics find them hollow as the United States Senate has yet to refine some words in the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the US and the Philippines that the U.S. can standby by this commitment and to ratify the U.S. as signatory to the UNCLOS.
According to the MDT, an attack in the Pacific side of the Philippines is an attack on the United States. The U.S. Senate needs to clarify if the South China Sea (Philippine Western Sea) is part of the Pacific Ocean to get the US to defend the Philippines in the event of an attack by China in the Philippine Western Sea.
At the same time, Obama assured the aging and ailing Filipino World War II veterans of his support by pledging to “keep its commitment Her allies will never stand alone.”
The pledge, however, was short in commitment to sign an executive order that allows the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to consider archives other than the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri before denying the Filipino veterans’ application for recognition and benefits for their services during World War II.
Neither did Obama pledge to support the pending bill in the U.S. Congress, which among others, will attempt to overturn the 1946 Recession Acts that deprived the Filipino veterans of recognition and equal war pay.
At a jampacked second and final day speech at the Philippine Army Wellness Center at Fort Bonifacio with U.S. and Philippine troops and veterans, including former President Fidel V. Ramos, Mr. Obama merely embellish his statement of support by saying, the US will “reaffirm our enduring alliance between the two countries.
“Our commitment to defend the Philippines is iron-clad and the U.S. will keep that commitment because allies never stand alone.”
Only hours before his arrival on April 28 in Manila from Kuala Lumpur, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperative Agreement (EDCA) that allows more American soldiers access to limited military bases in the Philippines while helping the Philippines train its soldiers on security capabilities, including extending humanitarian assistance and countering transnational crimes. The agreement will take effect for 10 years.
While describing EDCA as a way of strengthening “our deepening alliance,” Obama emphasized that the U.S. was not trying to reclaim the old American bases or build new bases. At the invitation of the Philippines, American service members will rotate through Filipino facilities. We’ll train and exercise more together so that we’re prepared for a range of challenges, including humanitarian crises and natural disasters, like Yolanda,” Obama said.
He added, “We’ll work together to build the Philippines’ defense capabilities and to work with other nations to promote regional stability, such as in South China Sea.”
But Obama was guarded by saying, America and the world enjoy “enormous trade with China” when he arrived in the Philippines at the end of his four–nation tour that started in Japan and proceeded to South Korea and Malaysia.
“We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China. There is enormous trade, enormous business that’s done between the United States and China. There are a whole range of issues on the international stage in which cooperation between the U.S. and China are vital,” he said.
OUR GOAL IS NOT TO CONTAIN CHINA
“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that the international rules and norms should be respected and that include the area of maritime disputes,” Obama told a joint press conference with President Aquino in Malacanang.
Outside Malacanang, hundreds of activists massed at the Mendiola Bridge entrance which was protected by barb wires and iron gates. Other rallyists were reported setting up protests in front of China Embassy in Makati.
“Our primary interest is the peaceful resolution of conflict, freedom of navigation that allows for continued progress and prosperity. We don’t take specific position on the disputes between nations,” Obama said, lending support to President Aquino’s effort to go before the international tribunal in resolving the conflicting claims in the Philippine Western Sea. Aside from the Philippines and China, the other countries having overlapping claims to certain islands, reefs and shoals at South China Sea (Philippine Western Sea) are Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.
“Our goal here is simply to make sure that everybody will cooperate in peaceful, responsible solution to attain prosperity, growth and jobs. We need to focus on security arrangement that avoids conflict and disputes and we’ll be able to place our attention on what should be focused on,” Obama said.
It was the first time a U.S. president visited the Philippines since President George W. Bush in 2003. Bush spoke before the joint Philippine Congress during that time.
There are about 350,000 Americans residing in the Philippines and approximately 600,000 U.S. Citizens visit the Philippines annually. There are about four million people of Philippine descent who live in the U.S. although some claim the number could reach 4.5-million.
According to handouts from the U.S Embassy, the Philippines has the world’s oldest continuous operating Fulbright program that started in 1948. In 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Manila processed close to 200,000 non-immigrant visa applications and nearly 65,000 immigrant visa cases. Since 1961, over 8,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in the Philippines, and at present, 130 Peace Corps Volunteers are working in the country on education, youth development, environmental conservation, and disaster management issues.”
At the joint press conference, Obama recalled how Americans and Filipinos fought side by side during World War II. He reiterated these ties at the second- and final day of his state visit at the Philippine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio with American and Filipino soldiers behind him, saying “Now, this is my first visit to the Philippines as President, and I am proud to be here as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf when Americans and Filipinos fought together to liberate this nation during World War II.
“Now, all these years later, we continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (balikatan) to uphold peace and security in this region and around the world.”
FRIENDSHIP THAT SPANNED GENERATIONS
Obama thanked the Filipino people for “a friendship that has spanned generations.
“I’d like to add our friendship is deeper and the United States is stronger because of the contributions and patriotism of millions of proud Filipino Americans.
“As a vibrant democracy, the Philippines reflects the desire of citizens in this region to live in freedom and to have their universal rights upheld. As one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, the Philippines represents new opportunities for the trade and investment that creates jobs in both countries,” he said.
Obama said the Philippines is in “a better partner on issues such as maritime security and freedom of navigation. Let me add that recent agreement to end the insurgency in the South gives the Philippines a historic opportunity to forge a lasting peace at home with greater security and prosperity for the people of that region.
Obama assured the American government’s assistance on helping the Philippine recover from the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November 2013.
While Obama paid tribute to the “heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor” by Filipinos and Americans, he said, “Sadly, the proud service of many of these Filipino veterans was never fully recognized by the United States. Many were denied the compensation they had been promised. It was an injustice. So, in recent years, my administration, working with Congress and others, have worked to right this wrong. We passed a law, reviewed the records, processed claims, and nearly 20,000 Filipino veterans from World War II and their families finally received the compensation they had earned. And it was the right thing to do.”
He said, “We are truly honored to have some of these extraordinary veterans here with us today. Among them are men who fought at Bataan and Corregidor, and a survivor of those hellish prisoner or war camps. Some fought in the resistance, including nurse Carolina Garcia Delfin. These veterans are now in their nineties. They are an inspiration to us all, and I’d ask those who can stand to stand or give a wave so that we can all salute their service.”
At the joint press conference, President Aquino defended his human rights record in the case of extrajudicial killings of journalists by saying that “If at times we do not reveal the discoveries by our intelligence agencies and security services, perhaps we are very sensitive to personal relationships by the people who are deceased who were killed not because of professional activities, but, shall we say, other issues.”
Aquino, however, fumbled on his figures, by saying that there were “52 journalists,” who were killed at the Maguindanao massacre, although, there were only 32 who were killed.
President Obama (File Photo)