The recent four-day official visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines underscores the importance Washington attaches to our bilateral relations.
At the same time, it emphasizes the Marcos administration’s commitment to strengthen long-standing ties based on shared values and adherence to democratic principles amid changing geopolitical realities in this part of the world.
The US Vice President’s meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to discuss economic ties and security cooperation was timely.
The Philippines wants to accelerate economic recovery in the aftermath of nearly three years of lockdowns and mobility restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to shutdowns of factories and business enterprises and massive job losses.
The US government can facilitate two-way trade as well as encourage American corporations to invest in various economic sectors in the Philippines.
The Philippines also needs to modernize its armed forces as part of building a credible defense posture due to tensions in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait.
The US can extend help in this regard not only through arms sales but also by re-affirming its firm commitments to the country under the Mutual Defense Agreement (MDT), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
At the same time, our independent foreign policy clearly stipulated in the Constitution allows us to strengthen our ties with our traditional ally, the United States, without antagonizing our next-door neighbor, China, with whom we have our own differences over the South China Sea issue.
China has built artificial islands hosting military facilities across the vital sealane, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The US supports the decision of the Permanent Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague favoring our maritime claims in our Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
We welcome US support for our position, and emphasize that the rule of law should prevail on the territorial claims in the South China Sea by the Philippines and other neighboring countries.
Another flashpoint is Taiwan, which China says is a renegade province that should be re-united with the mainland, by force if necessary, especially if it declares independence. While we support the one-China policy, we also maintain robust trade relations and de facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
We need to enhance security cooperation with the United States to protect our own national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the national interest while keeping our bilateral ties with China at an equally robust level.
Who says we can’t have our cake and eat it too?