Obama, Aquino reaffirm US-PH defense alliance

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 09 2012 05:00 AM | Updated as of Jun 10 2012 01:44 AM

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MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - US President Barack Obama and Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino on Friday (Saturday in Manila) reaffirmed the 2 countries' defense alliance amid the high tension between Manila and Beijing over ownership of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The 2 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, during their bilateral meeting in the White House.

In a statement issued after their meeting, the US leader pledged Washington's support for the upgrade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the building of a "minimum credible defense posture" for Manila.

Obama cited the transfer of a second US Coast Guard cutter to the Philippine Navy, planned construction of a new Philippine National Coast Watch System, and the growing number of bilateral military exercises and training programs between the 2 countries.

The White House said Aquino briefed Obama on the situation in the West Philippine Sea during their one-on-one dialogue. 

The 2 leaders highlighted the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the region, which has become a flashpoint for competing claims between the Philippines, China, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific.

The Philippines, along with Vietnam, has been embroiled in increasingly bitter territorial disputes with China in the strategic waters, leading the Southeast Asian nations to step up ties with Washington.

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US President Barack Obama and his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino reaffirmed the 2 countries' security alliance during their meeting at the White House Friday (Saturday in Manila). Photo by Nadia Trinidad, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau chief

"(Obama and Aquino) expressed firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force," the White House said. "President Obama conveyed his support for the ongoing efforts within ASEAN to reach an agreement with China on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea that creates a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the conduct of parties, including preventing and managing disputes."

During their meeting, Obama and Aquino reviewed the progress made in enhancing bilateral cooperation and welcomed the outcomes of the US-Philippine Bilateral Strategic Dialogue and the first ever “2+2” ministerial consultation in April, including the commitments on regional strategic issues, security and economic cooperation, and supporting the rule of law.

"On security and military issues, we had discussions about how we can continue to consult closely together, to engage in training together, work on a range of regional issues together -- all of which is consistent with the announced pivot by the United States back to Asia, and reminding everybody that, in fact, the United States considers itself, and is, a Pacific power," Obama said after the meeting.

"I think that as a consequence of the meeting today in which we discussed not only military and economic issues, but also regional issues -- for example, trying to make sure that we have a strong set of international norms and rules governing maritime disputes in the region -- that I'm very confident that we're going to see continued friendship and strong cooperation between our two countries," he added.

"Today's meeting has really even deepened and strengthened a very long relationship we have, especially as we face the challenges that are before both our countries in the current situation," Aquino said.  

Maritime interoperability

The White House said the Presidents agreed to build on successful security cooperation on counterterrorism by expanding efforts to enhance joint military capabilities and interoperability in maritime security and domain awareness, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

Obama also recognized Aquino’s commitment to peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and to ensuring peace and progress in Mindanao.

The 2 leaders also discussed trade and economic issues, as well as Aquino's campaign against corruption, pursuit of the rule of law, improvement of fiscal performance and regulatory quality, and inclusive economic growth. 

They also agreed to continue to push for an Open Government partnership and implement the Philippines' Millennium Challenge Corporation compact grant.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Benigno Aquino take center stage at a lunch she hosted for the Philippine leader in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

New National Coast Watch Center

Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her government will help build a new National Coast Watch Center in the Philippines amid the Manila-Beijing territorial dispute.

Clinton made the announcement at a lunch she hosted for Aquino, who is in Washington, D.C. in an official state visit.

She also mentioned the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Philippines.

She said American military special forces have been working side by side with their Filipino counterparts on security concerns.

"We are also working closely together to increase information and intelligence exchanges and coordination on maritime domain issues," she said.

"And in this context, I'm pleased to announce today that the United States will support the construction, outfitting, and training of a new National Coast Watch Center in the Philippines," she added.

Citing the Scarborough dispute, Clinton said that as allies, Washington and Manila regularly consult on important regional issues.

She said that while the US does not take a position on the competing territorial claims in the region, it has "a clear interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea."

Clinton praised the Aquino government's initial steps to defuse the tension surrounding Scarborough Shoal.

"We encourage continued diplomatic dialogue and further efforts to lessen tension, to disengage, and to resolve the situation peacefully," she said. "The United States has been consistent in that we oppose the use of force or coercion by any claimant to advance its claims, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

China, ASEAN consensus sought

She also urged China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to reach consensus on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

Clinton, during her speech, also announced the signing of a new agreement with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

She said the agreement will spur joint US-Philippine efforts on science and technology.

"When our scientists share their ideas and their resources, not only do our two countries but the world reaps the benefits," she said.

Clinton also said the US will also increase the number of its Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines.

"President Aquino first came to the United States over 30 years ago to seek asylum with his family as political turmoil ravaged his country. Today, I welcome him here to reaffirm our shared future based on mutual respect and interests, our common democratic values, new partnerships, and the bonds between our peoples," Clinton said.

Aquino hailed the partnership between the two nations.

"We are clearly at a new juncture in our relations while we both remained grounded in our history and in the democratic principles and values we both hold, our success is also about what we can do together: to build a more stable region and to achieve an even more prosperous future for both our peoples," he said.

"That we are here now signifies our desire to further accelerate the achievement of these goals. I see a very rewarding future ahead of us as we worked on the different elements that comprise our partnership, such as our ties in defense and security, in our economies and amongst our peoples," Aquino added.  - with reports from Nadia Trinidad, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau chief; Agence France-Presse; Reuters