Harris assures Phl of US commitment to Mutual Defense Treaty

United States Vice President Kamala Harris troops the line with Col. Moises Nayve, of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, during arrival honors at Malacañang Palace on Monday. | PHOTOGRAPH BY YUMMIE DINGDING FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_yumi

No less than United States Vice President Kamala Harris assured President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. of the American government’s “unwavering” commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty during their first bilateral meeting in the Malacañang Palace on Monday.

Harris, the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila since Marcos took the helm of Malacañang, reaffirmed that the US would stand by the Philippines in the event of an attack in the South China Sea.

“Our relationship is based on mutual concerns about security for the region. We are both proud members of the Indo-Pacific. And in particular, as it relates to the Philippines, I will say that we must reiterate always that we stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” Harris told Marcos.

“An armed attack on the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US Mutual Defense commitments. And that is an unwavering commitment that we have to the Philippines,” she stressed.

The MDT, the longest-running defense pact signed in 1951, seeks to boost the defense and security cooperation between the Philippine and US armed forces.

The US official noted that the “strong relationship” between Washington and Beijing is based on their “mutual commitments to international rules and norms.”

“Upholding those international rules and norms in all of the ways that we know allow for again prosperity and security for our respective nations in the region,” she said.

For his part, Marcos stressed that the Vice President’s travel to the Philippines is a “very strong symbol” of the enduring relations between the two countries.

“I do not see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States. And that really has — that really has come from the very long relationship that we have had with the US,” he told Harris.

Harris also cited the “thriving” Filipino-American community in the Western nation, saying that people-to-people ties have contributed to the two countries’ “enduring” and “multifaceted” relationship.

“As you and I have discussed, I come from California. We have a thriving Filipino-American community there. And in fact, in the United States, by the last count, there are at least four million Filipino-Americans,” she said.

Harris also expressed openness to discussing opportunities that the US can collaborate with the Philippines such as addressing the climate crisis, renewable energy, clean power, generation of jobs, creation of industries and investments.

After her visit to the Manila presidential place, Harris is set to fly to Palawan on Tuesday, an island province closest to the disputed South China Sea.

The White House earlier said that Harris would speak publicly in Palawan to underscore the importance of environmental protection and meet fishing communities, civil society organizations, and the Philippine Coast Guard there.

Marcos earlier said he is unconvinced by postulations that Harris’s trip would exacerbate the maritime dispute between Beijing and Manila since Palawan is well within Philippine territory.

China is claiming around 90 percent of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory but is countered by the Philippines and four other Southeast Asian nations.

Her travel to Manila is viewed to reiterate the continued commitment of the US to its oldest defense arrangement with the Southeast Asian nation amid tensions in the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday and was accompanied by her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

Harris’ visit hailed

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the visit of Harris sends a clear signal to China that the US is supporting the Philippines in its territorial dispute with Beijing.

“We thank the United States for supporting our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in accordance with the International Arbitral Award in July 2016,” Rodriguez said.

In August, State Secretary Anthony Blinken also visited Manila, stating that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines would take effect should a Philippine vessel or plane be attacked in the South China Sea.

The lawmaker earlier backed Marcos’ call for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

He asserted that establishing a code of conduct is the best course for resolving territorial disputes amongst countries in the region amicably and peacefully.

Speaker Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, echoed Rodriguez’s sentiment, saying it would bolster the long-standing security alliance and economic relations between the US and the Philippines.

“The visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris is a welcome development as it would serve to reinforce the enduring alliance, partnership, and friendship between the Philippines and the United States,” he said.

The Speaker was among the government officials who welcomed Harris when she arrived in Malacañang on Monday to meet the Chief Executive.

Harris calls on Sara

Meanwhile, Harris paid a courtesy call on Vice President Sara Z. Duterte in Aguado House in Manila.

Among the topics discussed during the meeting of the two female leaders are education, security, poverty and employment.

Harris said she was impressed by Duterte’s work and responsibilities as vice president and secretary of education.

Duterte told Harris that she wants to institutionalize blended learning modality in the country to ensure that no Filipino learner will be left behind.

She also said that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in learning losses, most especially in younger children.

Harris said the US government strongly commits to backing the Philippines against forces that might attack the country.

Duterte said one of her agenda is security and anti-terrorism.

“Security is my first love,” she said.

Duterte also said that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants nine percent poverty incidence before his term ends in 2028.

The two female leaders both talked about training that could help create jobs.

The government, Duterte said, is implementing the Kindergarten to Grade 12 program and is working with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority on skills training for senior high school students.

EDJEN OLIQUINO and NEIL ALCOBER
@tribunephl_eao


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