US, Philippines discuss boosting defense ties after South China Sea, Sulu bombing issues
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez on Tuesday said the country discussed with the US how they can strengthen their defense cooperation amid disputes in the South China Sea and the recent report of the first Filipino suicide bomber during their 8th Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.
In a chance interview at Makati City, Romualdez told reporters the working group on defense security discussed the South China Sea.
“But in general terms, what discussed is the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries,” he said.
“As far as the defense portion of the working group on defense security, that was obviously discussed on how we can continue to strengthen our relationship. Again the United States will continue its Fonops (Freedom of Navigation and Over Flight Operations),” he said.
Romualdez said the US is very supportive on the country’s modernization program.
“So obviously, we have a lot of equipment that we are looking at purchasing not only in the US but other countries like Israel (and) Japan. These are all part of the mutual defense we have with other countries,” he said.
In a joint statement released after the meeting, both countries recalled the statement of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement on 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty during his visit in the country last March.
“Particularly the clarification that the South China Sea (SCS) is in the Pacific, and that any armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the SCS will trigger Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty. Noting this, senior officials discussed a wide variety of issues of mutual interest and reaffirmed their commitment to deepening the alliance and expanding areas of cooperation,” the statement said.
“The Philippines and the United States pledged to enhance their already robust defense cooperation, including by improving defense infrastructure, updating personnel and logistics procedures, and increasing mutual communication and coordination on operational elements of regional security. In this context, both sides commit to begin planning on a range of activities to improve maritime domain awareness,” it added.
In a press briefing, Romualdez said the discussion on MDT is continuous and the mechanism, which is the Mutual Defense Board usually dwells on how they can strengthen the treaty.
“This is something that is ongoing and we probably will continue to do that and I think there is one schedule for some time in September,” he said.
In the issue of the suicide bombing in Indanan, Sulu last month, US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said both countries were quite concerned about extremist activities in the country.
“And this is why counter-terrorism cooperation has been such a key element of our bilateral cooperation and I believe that counter terrorism cooperation will continue to look for ways to enhance the cooperation precisely because we know that the danger still exists in parts of the country,’” said Kim.
Romualdez said there is continuing cooperation, especially in intelligence sharing between the two countries.
“So our meetings again were truly productive and we ? discussed on how we can cooperate even more now especially with that happened, the recent bombing in Sulu,” he said.
The two countries also discussed economics, development, and prosperity; regional and global diplomatic engagement; and rule of law and law enforcement.
“In pursuing the deeper partnership, we intend to mold the alliance into one that gets ahead of the issues presented by the global environment. This way we ensure the alliance is proactive rather than reactive on shared concerns. Some of these shared concerns includes countering violent extremism, including mitigating the issues resulting to the return of foreign terrorist fighters, countering transnational crimes, defense modernization, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, capacity building for micro, small and medium enterprises, us participation in our BBB program and the development of the New Clark City and increasing the education and people to people exchanges,” said Romualdez.
“We are focused more on really promoting the Philippine economy in the United States in which we plan to do that more extensively next year. We will have a road show to just tell the story of the Philippines and also the New Clark City,” he said.
Kim said the US applauds the Philippine government for focusing on infrastructure development.
“And we want to support that as much as possible primarily I think it will be through private sector participation in major Build, Build, Build projects. Some US companies are already involved and as you know, US companies have great deal of expertise and experience in major infrastructure projects,” he said.
A joint statement on higher education cooperation was signed which will give the Philippines and the US a way forward in expanding education ties. Also inked was a science and technology agreement.
The US Embassy will also start a new fellowship called the US-Philippines Alliance fellowship
This is funded by the US Embassy where two young Filipino scholars will be sent every year to the United States to study national security and international relations.
The Philippines and the United States' next Bilateral Strategic Dialogue will be held in Washington D.C. in 2019. Ella Dionisio/DMS