AFTER announcing its “military and economic separation” from the United States last year, Manila now wants to strengthen its bilateral relations with Washington by intensifying economic cooperation.
In Washington, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told Sen. Cory Scott Gardner of Colorado that the Philippines wanted to go beyond security issues and intensify economic cooperation with the US.
“For so long, it was security that defined Philippine-US relations and we think it is about time we started looking at the socio-economic milieu as another defining characteristic of our relationship,” Cayetano told Gardner, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cyber-Security Policy.
“Let us use the present to reexamine the relationship with the objective of advancing our core interests together,” Cayetano added.
This was a reversal of the President’s announcement during the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum in October 2016 that the Philippines would cut its military and economic ties with the US.
Duterte had attacked the US for speaking out against his bloody drug war, even calling ex-US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore.”
The President then sought to mend ties with China despite a row over disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But in remarks during the anniversary of the 1901 encounter between Filipinos and American troops in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Duterte called the US an important security ally, citing the crucial surveillance equipment it gave to the Philippines to fight terrorists in Marawi City.
The President also said the atrocities of America against Filipino Muslims in the past were “water under the bridge.”
Last week, Washington confirmed that US President Doland Trump would visit the Philippines in November to attend the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
US senator optimistic
Gardner expressed optimism on the availability of opportunities to increase trade, investment and other economic exchanges with the Philippines.
He said a “robust and dynamic” Philippines-US relationship contributes to the strength of the national economies of both countries.
Cayetano also briefed Gardner about the Philippine government’s efforts to engage international partners on human rights and counterterrorism.
“It is important that we keep our communication lines open to directly address matters of possible concern to our partners,” he said.
The Philippines, a former American colony, is deemed by the US as a major non-Non Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.
Apart from the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in which both countries agreed to defend each other in case of an external attack, Manila and Washington signed in 1998 a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) governing the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines.
The 10-year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the previous Aquino administration in 2014, a supplement to the VFA, allows the rotational presence of US troops as well as their access to Philippine military facilities.
Ties didn’t fray – Lorenzana
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said military ties between the US and the Philippines didn’t fray because of regular annual joint military exercises and assistance provided by Washington to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Our regular annual military to military exercises with the US did not stop, we just reduced the number and revised some to prepare our military to address current concerns such as HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response), terrorism, piracy and drugs,” Lorenzana told reporters in a text message.
Lorenzana said the remarks of the President in Balangiga were a “reiteration” of the relationship between Manila and Washington.
“They always provide us with assistance. Maybe, [the President’s statement]is just a reiteration of our long relationship, both government-to-government and people-to-people,” the Defense chief said.
“Our ties with the US has always remained on friendly terms,” Lorenzana said.
WITH DEMPSEY REYES