BEFORE departing for Washington on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama left what he called an “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines if it is attacked by external enemies.
Speaking at the Philippine Army Gymnasium in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City (Metro Manila), Obama said the American government will keep such commitment because the United States and the Philippines are allies.
“And no potential aggressor can be under the illusion that either of them stands alone.
In other words, our commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad. The United States will keep that commitment because allies will never stand alone,” he told American and Filipino servicemen and veterans.
Obama made the statement in apparent response to criticisms that the US has no firm commitment to defend the Philippines even with the signing of the enhanced defense cooperation agreement (Edca) between the two countries hours before he arrived in Manila on Monday.
Edca allows the US to increase rotational presence of American forces in the country, bring in equipment and weaponry and access Philippine military camps.
With uniformed American and Filipino soldiers standing behind him on stage, Obama said he visited the Philippines “in order to reaffirm our enduring alliance between the two countries.”
“We believe that international law must be upheld, that freedom of navigation must be preserved and commerce must not be impeded. We believe that disputes must be resolved peacefully and not by intimidation or force,” he added, apparently alluding to a festering territorial row between the Philippines and China.
In a joint news conference with President Benigno Aquino Jr. on Monday, Obama, however, said the US has no intention to contain China, only that he strongly favors settlement of disputes through arbitration.
The US president cited the 60 years of defense alliance between Manila and Washington bound by the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951.
“This treaty means our two nations pledge, and I’m quoting, our ‘common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack, so that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that either of them stands alone,’” he said.
The defense alliance, according to Obama, will continue with the recent signing of Edca.
“Deepening our alliance is part of our broader vision for Asia-Pacific. We believe that nations and people have the right to live in security and peace and have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected,” he said.
Don’t be complacent
But despite Obama’s assurances, a lawmaker on Tuesday said the Philippines should not let its guard down in pushing for its claims to islands within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list, a former Marine captain, made the call a few hours after Obama ended his state visit to the Philippines—the last but arguably the most important stop of the US leader’s trip to four Asian nations that also included South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
“What was vague [on Monday]about President Obama’s statement was made clear [on Tuesday]when he said the defense treaty between the Philippines and the United States is ironclad. This equates to absolute and binding agreement between two nations but [Edca] should not make our government complacent,” Alejano said in a text message.
Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list said also on Tuesday he believes that the US will come to the aid of the Philippines because it cannot afford to take the Mutual Defense Treaty for granted and risk loss of confidence among its Asian allies.
With Llanesca Panti And William B. Depasupil