MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III will ask US President Barack Obama to clarify the kind of support and assistance the US will provide the Philippines as it deals with rising tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.
Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said, “Let us just say that defense and political and security cooperation will be an item in the agenda. And President Aquino will certainly discuss with President Obama concerns of the country that he believes to be our priority concerns and concerns that are aligned to our national interest.”
Coloma was reminded of the economic sanctions that the US imposed on Russia for a similar territorial dispute with Ukraine over Crimea.
He said: “Well, that is precisely the purpose of the dialogue that will take place. From the Philippine perspective, we would like to be able to arrive at a clearer understanding with the US on important aspects of the strategic partnership in those three areas. And we can be sure that President Aquino will take up with President Obama what he considers to be the primary or priority concerns of the government.”
He said the discussions must lead to the mutual benefit of both countries.
“It cannot be just a one-sided proposition in favor of one party over the other. I believe both the US and the Philippines are looking at an outcome that is mutually beneficial.”
Coloma expressed satisfaction with the supportive statements given by the US.
“Those statements have been encouraging and tend to affirm the cooperation and the partnership of both countries. The actions that they have taken are aligned with the pronouncements that they have made.”
He said the discussions will mainly revolve around security, defense , disaster assistance and expanded trade relationships.
“We look forward to the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines on 28-29 April 2014, the eighth by an American president. This visit will provide both leaders an opportunity to exchange views and their strategic vision in the 21st century, and discuss new avenues to further strengthen the longstanding relations between the two countries by intensifying political and security cooperation, expanding trade and investments, tourism and development cooperation, and deepening people-to-people ties. They will also discuss continued cooperation on the rehabilitation of ‘Yolanda’-affected areas.”
Coloma noted that President Obama’s visit will be the peak of a series of recent high-level exchanges between the two nations.
Last year, US Secretary of State John F. Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the Philippines.
Early this year, US Senator Marco Rubio (member, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and US Representative Ed Royce (Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives) also visited Manila.
He pointed out that the US remains to be the Philippines’ major trading partner with total trade of 14.5-billion US dollars in 2013.
Last year, the US was the second largest export destination of the Philippines, next only to Japan, with exports amounting to 7.8-billion US dollars.
Coloma added that the US is one of the Philippines’ top sources of assistance. From 2011 up to 2013, US assistance to the Philippines has amounted to over a billion dollars.
The development and military assistance covers a broad range of programs, from enhancing defense capabilities to supporting the good governance reform agenda, poverty reduction, and improving public infrastructure.
“People-to-people ties are strong with an estimated number of 2.27 million Filipinos living in the United States. Thousands of US tourists visit the Philippines every year. In 2013, over 670,000 tourists from the United States visited the Philippines. The visit of President Obama affirms the vigor of our strategic partnership and alliance and the strength of our people-to-people ties.”
Still, Coloma did not want to state if a proposed agreement on enhanced defense cooperation that seeks to provide US forces greater access to Philippine bases will be signed during the visit.
“We have no information on any signing activity. What I have discussed just now is the range of topics that will be taken up in the discussion between the two leaders—President Obama and President Aquino. It continues to be discussed by both sides. The last update I gave you last Monday… In the last update I gave you last Monday, I told you that inter-agency vetting is still ongoing—that’s for the Philippine side—and it’s still ongoing.”