PRESIDENT Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. on Saturday expressed hope that the Philippines' relationship with the United States would continue to "evolve in the face of all the changes that have been happening worldwide."

Marcos issued the statement during a courtesy call by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the President in Malacañang where they discussed the 70-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), amid the "shared challenges."

The MDT, signed between the two nations in 1951, calls for both to come to each other's defense in case of an armed attack.

"The Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution, I'd like to think of it," Marcos told Blinken.

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The Philippines is caught between the rising conflict between the US and China after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the US House of Representatives reportedly used the country's international airport to transit to Taiwan earlier this week.

Marcos, however, said that Pelosi's visit to Asia, which included Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, did not raise the intensity of the conflict, but proved how it had always been present in the region.

On Friday, China announced sanctions against Pelosi for allegedly "interfering in China's internal affairs and seriously undermining China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

This developed after Pelosi claimed that the US will "not allow" China to isolate Taiwan.

Pelosi's visit to Taipei — which China sees as its territory — has also prompted Beijing to launch its biggest military exercise at least 20 kilometers off Taiwanese coasts.

"The visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, coming here, really just... I do not think, to be perfectly candid, I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated it — how the intensity of that conflict has been. It actually has been at that level for a good while, but we got used to it and put it aside," Marcos said.

Recalling his talk with US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Loss Carlson, Marcos said the Philippines and the US "can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other."

"We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the United States and the Philippines and the history that we share," he said.

The President also noted that the assistance and help the US has extended to the Philippines over the years "can no longer be categorized as one thing or another because they cover such a large scope."

Marcos said a "volatile" international diplomatic scene, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and China-Taiwan tensions, highlight "the importance of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines."

"I hope that we will continue to evolve that relationship in the face of all the changes that we have been seeing and the changes between bilateral relations between us and the United States," he said.

Blinken, for his part, described the two countries' relationship as "quite extraordinary because it is really founded in friendship. It's forged as well in partnership, and it's strengthened by the fact that it's an alliance as well."

He also said that the people to people ties between Washington and Manila "are almost unique and it's something that we tremendously value in the United States."

'Shared challenges'

Blinken assured Marcos of US commitment to the MDT and of working on "shared challenges."

Aside from the treaty, the US official said "we're also working together as partners in so many areas particularly economically."

"The alliance is strong, and I believe can grow even stronger," he added.

Blinken said, however, that aside from "working on bilateral relations between us, we're working together in the region, and increasingly, we're working globally."

The US official has reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to defend the Philippines against any armed attack in the South China Sea and rejected anew China's massive claim on the resource-rich waters.

Travel to the US

Blinken also met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo who, in a joint virtual press conference, announced that the travel to the US in September of the President to attend the United Nations General Assembly and to meet with his US counterpart Joe Biden is being "firmed up."

"We agreed to work together over the next couple of months in firming up opportunities for our presidents for a possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month as well as the possible visit by President Marcos to Washington D.C., their schedules permitting, to an open invitation extended by President [Joe] Biden," Manalo said.

At the same time, Manalo said that he and Blinken "talked extensively about the alliance between our two countries."

"What stood out from our discussion was our resounding commitment to sustaining the positive momentum and trajectory of Philippine-US relations," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief said.

Blinken, who is in the country for the first time, said that he wanted to come to the Philippines "at the start of the Marcos presidency because the Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner, [and] ally to the United States."

Blinken said the Philippine-US alliance is the "oldest in the Indo-Pacific region."

"As you heard from the Secretary (Manalo), we share interest, we share values and we're connected by ties of family, friendship that go back literally, generations," he stressed.

Blinken said the US seeks to work closely with the President, Manalo, and other concerned Filipino officials "to make the proud history that we share into a living history for the Filipinos and Americans alike."

The US Secretary of State said that his itinerary "reflected the scale and scope" of the Philippine-US relationship and partnership.

Manalo said he and Blinken also discussed steps "to build on our two-way high level engagements over the past year, including the 9th Bilateral Strategic dialog as a member where we adopted the joint vision for the 20th century Philippine-United States partnership."

He said that in November, the Philippines is looking forward to hosting the 10th Bilateral Strategic Dialog "where we hope to advance our discussions on the political, security and economic cooperation between our two countries."

Blinken also confirmed the visit to the Philippines of two other US congressional delegations over the next two weeks which, Manalo said, was a "very positive sign of, I hope, the growing interest United States legislators [to] start off on the right foot with our new administration."

Before the joint press conference, Manalo and Blinken had a brief virtual meeting where DFA secretary thanked the US official for finding the "opportunity and time" to come to Manila, especially after attending the very hectic Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh.

Manalo missed the AMM after contracting Covid-19.

Manalo's health has improved but still opted to conduct the bilateral meetings and joint press conference with Blinken virtually.

Taiwan strait

In the same virtual briefing, Blinken said maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is vital not only for Taiwan but to the Philippines and many countries.

"We seek to deescalate those tensions and we think dialogs are a very important element. What I'm hearing from countries around the region and countries around the world is that they expect us to maintain our channels of communication," Blinken said.

"They expect us to responsibly manage our differences and that is what the United States is determined to do," he added.

Blinken also said, "What happens to the Taiwan Strait affects the entire region. In many ways it affects the entire world because the Strait like the South China Sea is a critical waterway."

He noted that nearly 90 percent of the world's largest ships pass through the Taiwan Strait.

"We always stand by our partners. It is important to underscore that because of what's happening in the Taiwan Strait," Blinken said.

Manalo said that while the Philippines "continues to help calm the waters and keep peace" it can "ill afford any further escalation of tensions in the region, because we are already facing a number of challenges getting our economy back to work, especially because of the Covid-19 pandemic."

"And we all know that no one country will be able to deal with all these issues on their own. And we look at the United States, a very important ally, our dear friend, as we chart our path forward," Manalo said.

Blinken said the US will also work with the Philippines to help secure its maritime domain.

"We also partner with Filipino fishermen and scientific researchers to preserve and protect the Philippines' precious maritime resources which are under threat from illegal fishing and environmental destruction by outside actors," he said.

Covid aid

Following his meeting with the President and Manalo, Blinekn oversaw the turnover of Covid medical supplies via the United States Aid for International Development (USAid).

In his speech, Blinken congratulated the Philippine government in its vaccination milestones and untiring efforts to combat the health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among the assistance given to the Department of Health (DoH) include face masks and latex gloves.

Health Officer in Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the DoH has expressed its gratitude to the US government for their unwavering assistance to the Philippines in responding to the pandemic and protecting Filipinos with vaccines and technical assistance.

The United States has already given a total of $50 million of aid and other assistance to the Philippines as part of its fight against the pandemic

'Delicate situation'

Meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd said China should handle the controversial trip of Pelosi to Taiwan diplomatically by raising the matter to the United Nations.

Pimentel, former Senate foreign relations committee chairman in the 18th Congress, said any attempts to solve the problem outside the UN is "very delicate" as there are many flashpoints in the world.

Sen. Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada said the Philippines has to be friends with everybody.

Estrada pointed out that Taiwan is near the Philippines and that there are many Filipinos in Taiwan.

As chairman of the Senate national defense committee, Estrada said he had scheduled a public hearing on Wednesday on the Taiwan situation.

WITH JAVIER JOE ISMAEL AND RED MENDOZA