US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg shrugged of the anti-American rhetoric of President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, noting that the US is committed to maintain its iron-clad alliance with the Philippines, including the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides for war games.
Goldberg made the statement after he was awarded a Golden Mace award by the House of Representatives–a recognition that he received from Duterte’s allies Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte during the plenary session.
The Golden Mace award cited Goldberg for being one of the first officials who rushed to Tacloban and Palo in Leyte that were devastated by Typhoon Yolanda, considering that Goldberg only assumed his Philippine post back in November 21, 2013.
The typhoon struck on November 8 of that year.
The House of Representatives praised Goldberg for hammering out the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between Manila and Washington also during his tenure.
The agreement allows US forces, contractors, vehicles, vessels and aircraft to conduct activities on agreed locations inside Philippine military bases.
“I’m a diplomat and I don’t respond to those kinds of comments. I don’t think it’s productive. I don’t think it is consistent with the great friendship and great alliance of our two countries. It would be better to focus on the important work that we do together, like the [military]exercises which finished yesterday between our Armed Forces [and]which develop our inter-operability as forces in humanitarian work, disaster response/relief just like before,” Goldberg told reporters.
The military exercises is implemented under the VFA, a pact that allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in its fight against terrorists but bans US forces in combat operations.
Duterte, however, has threatened to cut the war games between the US and the Philippines.
According to Goldberg, the US is deeply committed to continue the VFA with the Philippines.
“The VFA is one way in carrying out our alliance. I don’t want to talk about the end of the VFA. On our side, we have a great commitment to continue our alliance with the government. As US President [Barack] Obama and US Defense Secretary [Ashton] Carter said, our commitment to the defense of the Philippines is iron-clad,” the ambassador pointed out.
“The US benefits from its security alliance with the Philippines and the Philippines benefits from the US as it should be in a partnership. We do counter-terrorism work together which benefited Special Operations Forces here, as well as transfer of equipment during disasters, sharing intelligence information. We take on the worldwide threat of jihadist groups and support the Philippines in its rights in the South China Sea and the winning verdict by the UN Tribunal [for the Philippines],” Goldberg said.
He was referring to the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which rejected China’s nine-dash claim to the entire South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and also outlawed China’s aggression against Filipino fishermen and reclamation projects by declaring that Filipino fishermen enjoy fishing rights at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and that the Spratly Islands, as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank, are all within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Goldberg noted that the Golden Mace award is a great honor for him and for the US because the two countries share values, democracy, rule of law and people to people relations with 3.5 million Filipinos in the United States and around 700,000 Americans in the Philippines.
“We have an alliance that has endured and will endure,” he said.