Defense cooperation, including China’s incursions into Philippine territory, will be on top of the agenda when United States President Barack Obama meets President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday.
Speaking to reporters, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that both leaders will talk at length on defense and security cooperation which may lead to clearer understanding on “evolving global and regional realities” like the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue.
“There are evolving and changing realities in global and regional security, and it is apparent that the situation in the South China Sea is part of that evolving situation,” Coloma said.
“And President Aquino will certainly discuss with President Obama concerns of the country that he believes to be our priority concerns and concerns that are aligned to our national interest,” he added
According to Coloma, the treaty alliance between the Philippines and the US has been a “cornerstone of peace and stability in the region.” The United States is the only defense treaty ally of the Philippines.
“Our defense treaty with the US is of longstanding. The initial Mutual Defense Treaty was agreed upon in 1951, and there had been several subsequent agreements, including the Visiting Forces Agreement that was agreed upon a few years ago,” he said.
“So that has been an evolving partnership that has taken cognizance of changing and new realities in the region and in the world, and that is meant to address the capability of both countries to respond adequately to the evolving challenges,” he added
Asked if the Palace is satisfied with the statements of support that the Philippines is getting from the US, Coloma said: ” I believe so. The actions that they have taken are aligned with the pronouncements that they have made.”
“I think there is a continuing dialogue that supports the strategic partnership. And, of course, dialogues need to be followed by concrete programs and actions, which is an understandable expectation on both sides,” he said.
Obama is visiting the Philippines on the invitation of President Aquino. The visit is part of his trip to four Asian nations. Aside from the Philippines, Obama is also visiting Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.
The last visit of a US president to Manila was in October 2003 when Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, passed by for a nine-hour stopover.
Coloma noted that Obama’s visit will be the peak of a series of recent high-level exchanges between our two countries.
Last year, US Secretary of State John F. Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the Philippines. Early this year, US Senator and member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Marco Rubio, and US Congressman Ed Royce, who also chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, visited Manila.
“We look forward to the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines,” the Palace official said.
Coloma noted the visit would also provide the two leaders “an opportunity to exchange views on their strategic vision in the 21st century, and discuss new avenues to further strengthen the longstanding relations between the two countries, by expanding trade and investments, tourism and development cooperation, and deepening people-to-people ties.”
According to him, the US continues to be the major trading partner of the country, with total trade amounting to $14.5 billion in 2013. Last year, the US was the second largest export destination of the Philippines after Japan, with exports reaching $7.8 billion.
“The US is one of the Philippines’ top sources of assistance. From 2011 up to 2013, US assistance to the Philippines has amounted to over a billion dollars. The development and military assistance covers a broad range of programs, from enhancing defense capabilities to supporting the good governance reform agenda, poverty reduction, and improving public infrastructure,” Coloma said.
He added that people-to-people ties are strong with an estimated 2.27 million Filipinos living in the United States, while thousands of US tourists visit the Philippines every year. In 2013, more than 670,000 American tourists visited the Philippines.
Speaking of overall relations between the Philippines and the United States, Coloma said: “The visit of President Obama affirms the vigor of our strategic partnership and alliance and the strength of our people-to-people ties.”
The Philippines and the United States are currently in the midst of negotiations to step up the joint training of Filipino and American air, naval and ground forces and increased US military assistance to the country.
But Malacanang stressed that talks to increase US troop presence in the Philippines were not rushed for completion in time for the Obama visit.
“I think it is best that we await the final outcome because the details are still being ironed out as we speak,” Coloma said. CATHERINE S. VALENTE