MANILA— United States President Joe Biden on Saturday called for continued cooperation with the Philippines in the areas of global health and security as he sent well wishes to Manila on Independence Day.
In a message directly addressing Filipinos, among his first as president, Biden also touted the enduring friendship between the two nations, which this year are marking 75 years of diplomatic relations and 70 years of "strong alliance."
"As we honor this joyful of independence and friendship, let’s also look to the future, at the challenges our two countries must continue to work to take on together, from defeating this pandemic and strengthening the global preparedness for the next one, to advancing the free and open Indo-Pacific region for all peoples," Biden said in a message from the White House.
"The Philippines and the United States share so much history, and our people are forever connected through our deep bonds and shared sacrifices of valor, of family and of friendship," the US leader said.
Biden also noted contributions of Filipinos in American life, with over 4 million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans living in the US.
"They make invaluable contributions to communities all across our country. They enrich the American character making our nation stronger and more vibrant," he said.
The US, which formerly held the Philippines and later played a key role in its liberation from Japanese occupation in 1945, has shared a long-standing defense alliance and humanitarian cooperation with the country.
It has kept close watch of developments in the South China Sea, urging a peaceful resolution of the maritime disputes and respect for freedom of navigation while calling out Chinese provocations.
US officials have also spoken in support of the Philippines as China continued island-building and militarization activities in the resource-rich waters.
Under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US, both countries are obligated to come to each other's aid in case of external aggression— a commitment that the US side has affirmed as Manila faced continued Chinese encroachment in the waters.
On the humanitarian front, the US is supporting the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the Philippines, with a total planned contribution of $4 billion to the vaccine-sharing COVAX facility.
Earlier this week, over 2.282 million doses of US-made Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in the Philippines with US support— the biggest shipment of jabs to the country to date. It followed an initial delivery of 193,050 jabs from the Pfizer brand in May.
Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the alliance between the US and the Philippines has faced testy times, as the outspoken leader pursued what he called an "independent foreign policy" and a pivot to American rivals Russia and China.
Duterte earlier demanded the return of the Balangiga bells, three church bells taken by American soldiers as war booty from Balangiga town, Eastern Samar in 1901— to which the Americans obliged in December 2018.
Duterte has also said he would abrogate the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, which governs the conduct of visiting US troops here. But this has yet to be enforced over renegotiations, Philippine officials earlier said.
In February, Duterte said the US must "pay" if it wants to keep the VFA in force.
Biden did not make direct reference to Duterte in his message but expressed hopes for the friendship between the two nations to flourish.
"I hope that friendship between the PH and the United States will continue to be a source of strength to both our nations through all the decades’ end," he said.