THE United States on Friday vowed to defend the Philippines from bullies as the country awaits the decision of an international tribunal on a complaint filed against China over disputed shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The United States stands behind the defense treaty with the Philippines, which President [Barack] Obama has described as ironclad. And if we see one of our allies being bullied or to do things against its will, that of course is the interest of the United States as an ally,” US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg said in a radio interview.
The envoy did not mention any country in his statement.
China, which claims almost the entire West Philippines Sea, has been accused of bullying the Philippines, as well as other claimants such as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Philippines and the US have long-standing defense ties, dating back to the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951.
The two countries concluded their annual military exercises two weeks ago.
The Philippines is one of the largest recipients of US financial assistance in Asia.
Goldberg said the US has allotted $66 million in military assistance to Manila this year. This is apart from the additional $42 million for maritime security initiatives.
“These are all things which the United States is working with the Philippine side to help improve capability. And yes, there will be more in terms of the ability of the Philippines [to] deal with] internal as well as external security threats,” the ambassador added.
Just recently, the US military left behind some of its troops and equipment that were utilized during the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint military drills.
“[This is to] establish communications that will allow us communicate better, to exchange classified information and to do things together. And so we thought that’s a prudent step after Balikatan to extend the life of the exercises so that we could further work together to continue doing important work,” Goldberg said.
He clarified that the US assistance is not only focused on enhancing Philippine defense but also to make economic growth more inclusive and sustainable.
This year, Goldberg said the Philippines will be receiving around $300 million from the US government for various economic programs.
The envoy maintained that Washington’s support to Manila is aimed at bringing economic prosperity, not to raise tension in the Asia-Pacific region.
Choose the best
Goldberg expressed hope that the next Philippine President will work for the continuance of the alliance of the two countries.
“We think that you will choose a leader who will represent the country and will continue our alliance. We, of course, wish the Philippines well. We hope that the electorate [will] choose the best leader,” he said.
Goldberg pointed out that the US is not meddling in the Philippine elections and it “respects the right and the ability of the people to choose a leader.”
“[It is] for the people to decide who that [best] person is. The United States will not take a position. We will abide by the traditional diplomatic rules that we don’t comment [on your election process],” the envoy said.
Goldberg added that whoever will be elected President will be greeted by a good bilateral relationship that had grown stronger over the recent years.
“Our relationship across the board has been really very good and I will expect that to really continue because whoever is elected here, whoever is elected in the United States, will see a relationship that is now based on mutual interest, common values, shared democracies and very much to people-to-people relationship,” he said.