United States Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tennessee) voiced his growing concerns on China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and welcomed steps being taken by the Philippines to resolve maritime conflicts.
Corker was in Manila from August 8 to 10.
During his visit, the senator lauded the Philippines’ efforts “to resolve territorial disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.”
“He expressed strong support for the US-Philippine alliance as a cornerstone of peace and security in the region and reconfirmed the United States’ commitment to the Philippines,” a statement released by the US Embassy in Manila said.
Washington maintains a “strategic interest” in ensuring peace and stability, as well as freedom of trade and navigation, in the West Philippine Sea.
It supports Manila’s move to bring the dispute before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos), seeking to invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim in the region, which houses more than $5 trillion worth of global trade annually.
Aside from Corker, a bipartisan delegation of US legislators also visited the Philippines from August 7 to 10.
The delegation led by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey), included Representatives Kay Granger (R-Texas), Ken Calvert (R-California) and Jim Moran (D-Virginia).
Accompanied by US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg, Corker and the US delegation met with President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The congressional delegation also met with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House defense committee, Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao and Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House appropriations panel.
Corker, on the other hand, met with Philippine senators and other key officials.
He and the congressional delegation reaffirmed and underscored the importance of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which provides a framework for Washington to assist Manila in building a minimum credible defense to better patrol its territories and upgrade its weak military system.
The treaty also provided a mechanism that will allow the US or the Philippines to come to each other’s aid in case of an external armed attack.
Corker and the congressional delegation said Washington’s commitment to the MDT is “ironclad.” They also reaffirmed US President Barack Obama’s rebalance to Asia policy.
The US lawmakers also affirmed the importance of strengthening trade ties between the US and the Philippines to boost bilateral relations.
Corker stressed that “strong trade ties [are]critical to economic prosperity and good jobs in both countries.”
He urged the Philippines to pursue membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will ease trade limitations and policies.
Corker praised the Philippines’ progress in combating human trafficking, as well as the US commitment to work with other nations as they step up their efforts to pass anti-human trafficking laws and improve enforcement of such laws.
The congressional delegation also visited Zamboanga City to meet with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) personnel.
The delegation discussed current JSOTF-P efforts to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its efforts to counter transnational terrorist groups including Jemmaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group.