MANILA - The US government on Thursday reiterated its commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and rules-based international order in the South China Sea amid "increasing encroachments."
Speaking to reporters, visiting US State Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman cited the Philippines as a leader and a champion for upholding freedom of navigation.
She also welcomed the continuation of the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement.
“The friendship between the United States and the Philippines runs deep. And so, too, does our shared commitment to upholding and strengthening the rules-based international order,” Sherman told reporters.
“The Philippines has been a leader and a champion for upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in the face of increasing encroachments. The United States remains committed to standing with the government of the Philippines to uphold the rules and laws underpinning the international maritime order, and we have spoken up against infringements of the Philippines’ sovereign rights.”
Sherman is in Manila for a day of meetings with members of the outgoing and incoming administrations.
She met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. as well as President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
Sherman said she raised the issue of and importance of fostering respect for human rights during her visit but declined to discuss more specifics.
“No nation—no nation—has a perfect track record when it comes to human rights, and the United States is no different. But what we can do—what democracies can do—is to strive to do better,” Sherman said.
“We regularly engage with the Philippines to discuss human rights concerns and to advance human rights in our bilateral relationship, and I raised human rights on my visit here as well, as I raise in my own country, also.”
Sherman described her meeting with President-elect Marcos Jr. as “very positive and productive” as they discussed broad range of issues including maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, upholding rules-based international order, people-to-people ties, clean energy, food security, inclusive economic development, and reducing barriers to trade and investment.
“President Biden looks forward to working with President-elect Marcos and his administration when they take office in the next few weeks,” Sherman said.
She said Marcos Jr. will be able to freely travel to the US in his official capacity as head of state despite a contempt judgement against him by a US court in connection with a human rights class suit.
"The fact is when you are head of state, you have immunity in all circumstances and are welcomed to the United States in your official role,” Sherman said.
"When someone is head or state, they have (diplomatic) immunity and would be welcome in the Unites States," she added.
Sherman, meanwhile, welcomed the Philippines joining the launch recently of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework with President Biden in Japan as one of the founding partners of the initiative, adding that the US and Philippines have “an ambitious, proactive agenda for cooperation” between the two countries “designed to directly improve the lives of our peoples, to build prosperity and improve security, and to seize the opportunities of the 21st century.”
The bilateral agenda includes combatting the COVID-19 pandemic with the US, in partnership with COVAX, donating more than 33 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine since last year.
“We will continue to work closely with the government to promote health security, move past the COVID-19 pandemic, and prepare the Philippines for future outbreaks. As we’ve all learned painfully these more than two years, when it comes to our health, none of us is safe until all of us are safe,” she said.
The US is also working with the Philippines to address the climate crisis, building more clean energy, recover from the devastation of Super Typhoon Odette, and “securing fisherfolks’ livelihoods and rights.”
She cited the recently held bilateral maritime dialogue that covered “ongoing challenges to the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction” as well as ways to tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, environmental issues, and the impact of climate change.
Sherman also welcomed the news of a US-based company acquiring the former Hanjin shipyard at the Subic Bay Freeport.
“The shipyard will be fully modernized and will provide the Philippine Navy use of a naval base that will improve access to the South China Sea,” she said.