THE PHILIPPINES will get $70 million in US assistance so it can upgrade military facilities in the next two years, according to the US ambassador in Manila.
“These improvements are designed to enhance cooperative defense capacities and support humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay L. Carlson told a forum on Wednesday.
The $70-million military aid is different from the $100 million that the US State Department wants to make available to the Philippines for its military modernization program.
The militaries of both nations kept the “engine of the alliance running at the tactical level of our security cooperation” amid a coronavirus pandemic, she said. “What we are aiming to do now is complement this tactical know-how by revving up the strategic, policy-level direction in the alliance.”
Both are seeking to expand their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is meant to enhance their Mutual Defense Treaty, Ms. Carlson said.
The 71-year-old military pact binds them to defend each other in case of an external attack.
“The department is committed to accelerate the implementation of the EDCA by concluding infrastructure enhancement,” Philippine Defense Officer-in-Charge Jose C. Faustino, Jr. told the same forum. The Philippine military plans to build more facilities at existing locations and explore new ones for a “mutual defense posture.”
In 2016, the Philippines and the US agreed on five locations where American troops will have access —the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan, Cebu.
“The Philippine-US alliance makes an important contribution to our efforts to develop our own capability, as well as regional peace and stability, which is the center component of the Philippines’ natural interest,” Mr. Faustino said.
The US has committed more than $625 million in the past five years for Philippines defense and security enhancements, especially in maritime areas including the South China Sea.
“Our goal through all these efforts is to continue to be your partner of choice,” Ms. Carlson said, adding that the US supports President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s vow not to cede “even one square inch of territory.”
“In the South China Sea, as allies, we stand together to oppose attempts by those who seek to advance unlawful maritime claims in the Philippine exclusive economic zone or on its continental shelf,” the US envoy said.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo told the forum the Philippines is counting on the US to help support and uphold its sovereignty in the disputed waterway.
He also said the US should “pursue measures to deescalate tensions, while promoting an international law-based order in the region.”
The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.
“We appreciate the leadership the Philippines shows by championing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” Ms. Carlson said.
“We call upon China to fulfill its treaty obligations under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention to comply with the legally binding decision of the arbitral tribunal in 2016, which delivered a unanimous and binding decision firmly rejecting China’s expansive and unlawful maritime claims,” she added.
China has rejected a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.
Ms. Carlson said the US would stand with the Philippines “to consult, assist, deter and respond to any threats and provocations,” noting that the US shares the country’ s concerns over China’s “provocative military activity in the Taiwan Strait and areas around Taiwan.”
Taiwan is overseeing a military modernization program to respond to a growing threat from China, which in August held war games near the island in an angry response to a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“The US would expect the Philippines to act in its own interest in the event of any conflict, attack, security breach or concern,” Ms. Carlson said when asked about US expectations for the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“We would expect to partner with the Philippines and our strong allies, friends and partners in helping our ally confront whatever issues they could face,” she added.
Meanwhile, the US has launched a government assistance project worth P15 million to support the Philippines’ judicial reform efforts, the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
The US National Center for State Courts will help implement the Manila Justice Sector Reform Program in support of the Philippine Supreme Court’s 2022 to 2027 strategic plan for judicial innovation.
“The rule of law is essential in ensuring equal access to justice for all, especially the most vulnerable,” Ms. Carlson said in the statement.
“We must preserve democratic institutions and bring together like-minded countries because the rule of law is vital to democracy,” she added. “The United States values its longstanding partnership with the Philippines and remains committed to supporting the Supreme Court as it pursues judicial reforms.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan