MANILA — The United States is ready to work with whoever wins in the May 2022 presidential elections in the Philippines, saying it looks forward to having a “strong and productive relationship” with the new president.
Speaking to reporters in a virtual press conference on Thursday, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Heather Variava said the United Sates is also looking forward to continuing its strong partnership with the Philippines and supporting the country protect its sovereignty.
“We very much support the Philippine democratic process and look forward to working with whichever candidate is elected by the people of the Philippines. The United States and the Philippines share many values in common and of course, democracy and elections are part of them,” Variava said.
Variava said the two countries enjoy a deep bond and strong relations will remain whoever becomes the next Philippine president.
“We have a lot of belief in the democratic process here in the Philippines. I think that the relationship between the United States and Philippines is so long, so broad, so deep, it’s been very impressive to me as a newcomer to the Philippines to see just how many different ways we partner in the realm of security, in the realm of economy, trade and in the realm of development, in the realm of cultural and educational exchange,” she said.
“I think, regardless of who is elected in May, we look forward to having a strong and productive relationship with the new president and look forward to continuing that strong partnership and supporting the Philippines right and its sovereignty in the region.”
Variava said the US may send observers to monitor the conduct of the 2022 polls, having discussed with the Commission of Elections its observation program.
Asked about survey frontrunner Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s desire to set aside the 2016 arbitral ruling in the South China Sea in addressing maritime disputes with Beijing, Variava expressed confidence that discussions to resolve territorial disputes will not weaken the United States’ alliance with the Philippines.
“As a sovereign country, it’s expected that the Philippines will have discussion with other countries in the region in attempting to resolve territorial disputes. Those discussions will not weaken the long-standing alliance between the United States and the Philippines which has proven time and again to be a bedrock of stability and prosperity here in this region,” Variava said.
In the same press briefing, Variava reiterated the United States’ call for China to abide by the 2016 arbitral ruling and stop its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea as recently stated in a US Department of State position paper on the limits of the sea.
“Philippine sovereignty over its territorial waters in the South China Sea is a non-negotiable part of the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Variava said.
After the Chinese coast guard fired water cannons at Philippine supply ships on the way to Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea in November, the US had reiterated its support to the Philippines and confirmed that an armed attack against Filipino vessels in the South China will invoke mutual defense treaty commitments.
Variava stressed that US commitment to the Philippine military is strong, citing P57 billion military assistance to Manila since 2015, making the Philippines the largest recipient of military aid in the Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, the US vowed to continue supporting COVAX donations and ensure that vaccines are made available to the Philippines.
Variava pointed out that the US, the largest donor to the COVAX facility, has facilitated the delivery of more than 65 million vaccine doses to the Philippines, 25 million of which are direct donations from American people.
The US government has also provided the Philippines so far with P1.9 billion worth of other COVID-19 assistance, including testing, communications campaign, critical medical equipment, storage units, and PPEs.
The US has so far allocated more than P1 billion in humanitarian assistance for communities affected by typhoon Odette, including the provision of food, water, sanitation and shelter needs.
Variava said the US will continue to work with partners to send aid and assess needs to assist the Philippine government response.
“It will be a long and challenging recovery but rest assured United States stands with each step along the way as we recover from the typhoon and advance the Filipino spirit of bayanihan as our guiding light, the Philippines can count on United States as a reliable, friend and ally,” Variava said.
LANDING MISHAP IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
Meanwhile, the US Embassy said that three US sailors who were evacuated to Manila for medical treatment following a “landing mishap” on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft while conducting routine operations in the South China Sea on Monday are now in stable condition.
“United States is so grateful for the care and professionalism of Philippine medical personnel here who have been looking after them. All three of the US sailors evacuated to Manila are in stable condition, Variava said.
Seven US sailors were injured Monday in a Navy F-35C fighter jet "landing mishap" on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, the Navy said.
The accident occurred while the F-35 was attempting to land on the USS Carl Vinson during routine flight operations, according to the US Pacific Fleet.