US President Barack Obama walks on stage to speak to American and Filipino troops at the Philippine Army Gymnasium in Fort Bonifacio on Tuesday. Obama said a new military pact signed with the Philippines on Monday would bolster the country's maritime security. Photo by Larry Downing, Reuters
MANILA (UPDATED) - US President Barack Obama commended both American and Filipino soldiers who have fought alongside each other in various wars and worked together in humanitarian missions.
In a speech at the Philippine Army Gymnasium in Fort Bonifacio, Obama told veterans and servicemen that “I am here in the Philippines to reaffirm our enduring alliance between the two countries.”
He took note of the Mutual Defense Treaty forged between the two nations in 1951, which provides “their common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack, so that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that either of them stands alone in the Pacific area.”
“Our commitment to defend the Philippines is iron-clad and the US will keep that commitment because allies never stand alone," he stressed.
Pundits have questioned whether the treaty will be enforced amid stronger actions from China.
At the start of his 2-day state visit on Monday, however, Obama said the US goal is not to “contain China.”
He said US help transcends to another form of alliance, such as wars in defense of freedom and humanitarian assistance during disasters. This was seen during the Battle of Bataan and Corregidor during the World War II and the onslaught of Yolanda in November.
He highlighted the heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor where soldiers from both nations “together endured the agony of the Death March and the horror of war camps.”
Obama paid tribute to Carolina Garcia Delfin, a nurse during the World War 2, and other veterans who, for some time, failed to get the necessary compensation from the US government. The veterans got a rousing applause from Obama and the audience in the packed gymnasium.
He said his administration has passed legislation that has provided “nearly 20,000 Filipino veterans and their families” the much needed compensation and recognition.
In Bataan and Corregidor, the heroism of the veterans “brought out the best in the Filipino character in the face of adversity and served as beacon to freedom-loving peoples everywhere,” the US president said.
This “spirit of alliance” remains up to the present, such as when one of the worst typhoons hit the country, he said.
Obama took note of the first aircraft that landed in Tacloban a day after Yolanda hit, carrying the needed relief and medical supplies.
He highlighted the bravery of Captain Roy Trinidad, a Philippine Navy SEAL; Colonel Mike Wylie, United States Marines; and Major George Apalisok, U.S. Air Force.
"Just hours after the storm passed, with Tacloban devastated, they landed at the airport. And the next day, they were joined by others, including Army Major Leo Liebreich."
Obama also took a moment to applaud all four men.
He said they and other soldiers on the ground worked tirelessly amid the difficult task at hand. A simple “salamat” was all they accepted, he said.
Obama said this alliance will continue with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed yesterday before his arrival. The EDCA allows American soldiers access to military bases in the country.
He said this will start “the deepening of an alliance of our broader vision for the Asia Pacific.”
Obama later proceeded to a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.
He departed for Washington before noon.